Friday, September 11, 2009
Director: Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, Fat Man and Little Boy)
Writer (English Adaptation): Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Brazil, and where the name of my blog comes from)
As the movie begins, the Marquis de Lauzun (Tim Roth), is sending a letter on behalf of King Louis XIV (Julian Sands) to the Prince de Conde. The Prince de Conde is played by Julian Glover who's been in a bizillion things, but one thing that I thought was interesting (mostly that I didn't know it already of which I'm ashamed) was that he was the voice of Aragog the spider in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The King is inviting himself and about a hundred courtiers to spend three days at the home of the Prince and Princess de Conde. The preparations to entertain so many people put the already bankrupt Prince in a terrible bind. But there is nothing to do but find a way. Thanks to the prince's master steward, Vatel (Gerard Depardieu), the King is impressed with the spectacle, and oblivious to the poverty stricken commoners who are footing the bill for the party, already destitute and starving.
Throw into the mix Uma Thurman's character, who seems to be an afterthought. She is some insignificant courtier noticed by the King, and by Vatel, and by the Marquis. Enter the ill-fated love interest that has no bearing on the plot and no interest to the viewer. Richard Griffiths plays the Prince's physician. And the most notable character in the entire movie: the brother of the King, "Monsieur" Phillipe d'Orleans played by a very interesting person, Murray Lachlan Young. Young has only appeared in bit parts in about 3 movies. He was a successful performance poet in the 1990's and even produced an album of his material. He plays his part to perfection and is the only one in the movie who does. His part is small, but he is wickedly good. Monsieur has a well documented love of little boys that in this script is attempted to be transfered to middle-aged French men. He has some of the best lines and looks absolutely insane in some of his scenes. I don't know how this guy hasn't done more. He was captivating. He looked like a maniac. I think he was my favorite thing in the whole movie.
There is a little bit of uninteresting court intrigue, lots of money problems, and a bunch of nothing. The food and food preparation scenes are fun, as are the scenes of how they set up the 3 day party. The scenery and costumes are breathtaking and have a very real feel to them. The story is based on a reality, loosely, but is not even an interesting enough story for me to look up the facts on it. Julian Sands playing the King was a fairly small role but I didn't even recognize him until halfway through the movie and still had a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact it was him. He was better in this than in nearly anything else I've seen him in, which is to say, he didn't seem like an overgrown toddler or a corpse.
Tim Roth made me grin. He was hilarious in a few of his very few scenes. When you first see him interact with Uma Thurman when the courtiers get to the Prince's home, he is fabulous. I had expected to see him in the movie a bit more than he was, since he was featured foremost on the cover of the DVD, but was sadly mistaken. He was only a bit better than a cameo. Adding to the picture is the fact that while all the other wigs are just gorgeous, his looks like a rooster, which doesn't help the fact that his face sort of looks birdish anyway!
There was a special feature called "The costumes of Vatel" on the DVD and I settled in for a good, in-depth feature, but it was about a five minute thing with a couple interview clips of a couple of the actors talking about costumes. It was disappointing.
The movie was considered a great failure. French audiences hated it, with reporters at Cannes when it opened trashing it and Gerard Depardieu. I agree with them in that sometimes it does seem as if he is lost in either the plot, the scene, or what the words mean that he's supposed to be saying. I had to turn on the subtitles a few times to understand what he mumbled. Despite the trash talk of Depardieu, I found Uma Thurman much harder to take. Not only did I feel her part was just tossed in to create a love interest, but she was wooden as usual. She has the look for period pieces, that's for sure, and while I don't think she's particularly pretty, she has something interesting about her face that I sort of cut her inability to make me believe her some slack. I don't understand, though, why movie makers cannot make a movie without turning it into something sappy, at least in parts. It's alright if it fits, but usually it just messes up a strong plot line. It does that here. Although calling this a strong plot line might be a stretch. There are a few places that the movie could have taken a better turn and a handful of plot threads that went nowhere would have been more interesting than what finally came out.
Concentrating either on the court intrigue, the love triangle, well it would actually have been a...quadrangle... is that a word?...or concentrating on the exploits of the courtiers while on the short holiday with more humor in it would have been better ideas than trying to throw all of those things into a movie that ended up feeling jumbled and lackluster when you got below the wigs and powder and costumes. Gosford Park did a better job of what it felt like these people were trying to accomplish.
The movie is great if you're watching it for the costumes and the setting, or for the actors that are in the smaller roles. Expecting something entertaining out of it is going into it with the wrong attitude. In fact, unless you want to check out Murray Lachlan Young, or you are into costumes, this blog is probably all you need to know about the movie.