The King of Piedmont is introduced to Jeanne, the beautiful young wife of one of his courtiers, with whom he falls madly in love the moment he sets eyes on her. Jeanne, very much in love with her own husband and wishing to be faithful to him, is disturbed by the king's advances and resists him. The king is obsessed with his desire for her and neglects his duties and his kingdom, until the entire court, including his wife and even Jeanne's own husband and his family, put pressure on Jeanne to give in to the king's wishes and become his mistress in order to save the king and the country. When her husband tells her it is her duty to serve the king and give in to his wishes, she goes to the king, but makes it very clear that she despises him and doesn't return his love for her. The king's passion for Jeanne never subsides and eventually goes so far that he loses a war when he returns home to nurse her through a near fatal illness instead of remaining with his troops and leading them in ...
It might be easy to confuse the effectiveness of this movie with the actors' performances. I find that script or editing is generally a culprit when things don't work well, and that may be the case here. The story line, as it's presented, feels disconnected from scene to scene. This is particularly true in the very last scene, which doesn't give us a any information whatsoever about how the King winds up in the condition he's in; we are left to make assumptions. But perhaps it doesn't matter how the king ended up as he did. Alex Corti, director, may only have wanted us to be aware that the King played out a wildly descriptive metaphor for the psychological condition that plagued him throughout the movie. The end makes sense, metaphorically. This is a significant film for Timothy Dalton because his acting is virtually devoid of posturing and hyperbole. I'm struck again and again at how authentic are his reactions, given his grasp of the King's dysfunction. Perhaps because of the story, or the expectations of the director, Dalton seems instinctively aware of the King's passion, obsessive focus and possessiveness. We don't know Dalton in his private life, but I find him most effective when he takes on characters of a dark and threatening nature. I don't think he makes one false step in this movie, which is saying a lot. Of all his films that I've seen, this one--while very dark and difficult to watch for its unrelenting obsession and depressive qualities--is his most authentic; his most believable. Over and above his performance, I don't agree with the other reviewer that Valeri Golino gives us a wooden performance with no nuance. She demonstrates early on that her character is given to spontaneous, unguarded passions; that she is naive to political protocol. Indeed, we see these qualities mature into calculated vengeance, when she has been mortally wounded by the betrayal of her husband and family, at which point she becomes ruthless--as abused victims often are, in the face of too early or horrific a trauma in their lives. She figures out how to play the game to her advantage, and given her natural eccentricity, such a discovery makes her the most dangerous player in the film. At no time, even when she is resisting/ignoring the Kings' advances, do I doubt her wild and iconoclastic streak, which says everything about Golino's performance. Indeed, the King's obsession with her seems a completely natural outgrowth of his admiration for her ability to flaunt protocol, and her intelligence. I think both performances were excellent. It's the general darkness of the script that makes it difficult to watch, and the strange, ham-handed way the director/editor has of piecing together scenes. This is not an action movie, or even a costume drama. It's a movie about dysfunctional motivations, uses and abuses of power, and in this regard the movie is a rather timeless statement on the psychology of individual and political power. Watch it and decide for yourself. Timothy Dalton and Valeri Golino will not disappoint.
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