The fact that there is no French review for a movie directed by the most famous old wave director speaks volumes of the ill-fated nature of the project ; more than a continous biography ,it's more a succession of little pictures ,almost sketches ;taking the biggest liberties with history (Pauline's fate is anyway just a footnote in her big brother's saga), it is now frivolous ,foot loose and fancy free, now (though seldom) dramatic :it's Delannoy's and his screenwriter Philippe Hériat 's wish,but it' Sacha Guitry's reality!So neither the old cinema de papa buffs (I'm one of them) nor (and anyway they panned everything Delannoy did,which was sometimes quite unfair)the young Turks of the notorious Nouvelle Vague got anything out of it and the
amorous adventures of Pauline B are considered a bitter failure in Delannoy's native country.
Most of the precedent reviewers point out that the editing is absurd,the story incoherent , and some actors (Micheline Presles,notably) wasted.It's a lavish picture book ,with a cosmopolitan cast (French ,Italian,German and even Irish -Boyd-), but completely hollow ,with now and then ,a good idea (the statue episode,the jig saw puzzle), which does not make it a 2h15 good movie for all that.
Take the prologue in Corsica ;Pauline's early days are rather obscure;the long stroll across the country ,arm in arm , seems to be straight out from a musical ,and one can imagine Napoleon (Raymond Pellegrin,who had already played the emperor in Guitry's "Napoleon" ,by no means one of this director's best)sing to his siblings about the big plans he has made for them.Incidentally , Napo did not want Pauline to marry Freron because he was not a high born gentleman,but because he had proposed to another lady.
The Santo Domingo (against Toussaint Laverdure's rebellion) episode is a curious jumble : studio exoticism , the earnest playing of Massimo Girotti jars with the erotic swagger of Gina Lollobrigida (who was Delannoy's Esmeralda a few years back);although she played around , Pauline attended her husband till he died of yellow fever .
Except for the scenes with the sculptor (in which Gina strips bare ,but do not expect to get an eyeful ,one only sees her back),the italian vignette is insignificant .
The count (Stephen Boyd ,who was given a thoroughly ridiculous part: his tooth ,his wild ride,his death under an apple tree (!)) represents one of the many lovers of Napo's sister ;besides ,when he is introduced to her in her Paris dwelling , the woman who shows the way looks like her madam who was waiting for another man with a foreign accent.
It's true that all Napo's siblings were incapable and that Paolina (he frenchified her name when he rose to power)was his favorite ;she proved it later on when she visited him on Elbe Island and the gift of the jewels is historically accurate .
Do not get we wrong.I'm not the kind of N.V. afficionados who is anxious to put disparagement over cinema de papa ;most of the reviews I wrote about Delannoy's works are favorable ;but ,frankly,sport, here ,he proves that big budgets do not mean great achievements
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