Volume 2, Issue 3, December 2011
Forty or so versions of The Three Musketeers on film since 1903, some, admittedly loose adaptations or cartoons, but a plethora of choices from which, to my mind, only one version is worth salvaging, the 1973 Richard Lester film and its 1974 sequel. Since the world has not been waiting with baited breath for yet another Hollywood spin on the Dumas classic, Paul Anderson has not offered one. Instead he has created a steampunk fantasy that is so “loosely based” on the original that one wishes he had called it “Buckingham and Milady” rather than usurping the original title. Yet usurpation is perhaps no better than Dumas deserves, having himself claimed full authorship of a work written with the aid of Auguste Maquet. I suggest that L’autre Dumas, a recent film that examines their fraught relationship is well worth a detour.
To read the review…
Depicting saints’ lives, and female saints to boot, is no easy task, although one that never ceases to attract film-makers. I was particularly aware of the pitfalls as I watched two new French films. The first is a pedestrian biopic of Bernadette Soubirous, the Lourdes saint canonized in 1933, Je m’appelle Bernadette, and the second yet another spin on Joan of Arc, Philippe Ramos’s Jeanne captive (film trailer hot linked to text), which opened in slightly more theaters, deservedly so, although garnering almost as little attention. There isn’t much one can do with Bernadette except to depict her “simple faith” and the director has opted to contrast her calm certitude to the controversies that raged around her, although so programmatically and clunkily that, knowing the outcome, one does not much care. Joan has been portrayed in so many ways, as Dan Hobbins explains in his comprehensive review, that there aren’t many options left. This latest Joan is a lost and devastated young woman whose voices have abandoned her and who therefore refuses to speak. Yet she has such presence (aided by a magnificent performance by Clémence Poésy) that men cannot help trying to save her. It is easier for modern audiences to view Joan as national heroine than as Christian martyr, yet as Hobbins reminds us, Maria Falconetti’s performance remains the most memorable and we must contend with the saint as well as the warrior and woman.
To read the review…
It is not easy to depict the complexities of the Revolution without sounding didactic or ponderous and, as a result, there are few “decent” films one would wish to show students, and even fewer that come with subtitles. Two films that continue to engage our attention through powerful performances and stellar script are Ettore Scola’s 1982 La nuit de Varennes and Andrzej Wajda’s 1983 Danton. The first is set in June 1791 and presents a cross-section of French society and different stances on revolutionary events through a group of travelers following the king’s route, tossed about both literally and metaphorically in their stagecoach. Highly literate yet remarkably lively, the film offers us a way of approaching the Revolution without sacrificing its complexities. Now, all we need, is for the subtitled version (available on YouTube) to be dependably marketed. The second, based on a Polish play by Stanislawa Przybysweska, rewritten by Jean-Claude Carrière and Agnieszka Holland among others, is set at the heart of the Terror. It is, to my mind, the best film on the Revolution ever made, and one I show to students whenever I can, having managed to pick a slice that runs from the dinner confrontation between Danton and Robespierre to Danton’s arrest and the first stage of the trial, which is manageable in an hour-long class. I only wish that Robespierre had been played by a younger actor, but until someone decides to adapt Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece, A Place of Greater Safety (that we are reviewing in an upcoming issue), this will remain the most potent version of the conflict we have.
To read the review…
Liana Vardi, University at Buffalo, SUNY