of it as a Sixteenth Century Game of
Thrones without the fantasy elements. For first act starters, viewers will
meet a queen engaging in truly eyebrow-raising affairs and witness a bloody wedding
massacre. France’s religious wars vividly rage in a new 4K restoration of
Patrice Chéreau’s Queen Margot director’s
opens this Friday at Film Forum.
de Valois is Catholic, but you would hardly know it from her behavior.
Notorious for her indiscretions, Margot is less than thrilled with her arranged
marriage to the Protestant Henry de Navarre. Supposedly, their union will bring
peace in their time, but nobody really believes that—least of all Navarre. Although
he has tacitly agrees not to pursue consummation, he visits her on their
wedding night anyway, hoping to forge an alliance. Frustrated by the encounter,
Margot secretly leaves the palace, seeking a masked distraction. She finds it
with La Môle, a destitute young Huguenot with a distant family connection to King
Charles IX’s Protestant military advisor.
mere six days after the ceremony, as Paris sleeps off its revelries, a sudden
crisis culminates in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Ostensibly ordered by
the submissive King, the deadly business is planned by Margot’s mother,
Catherine de Medici, and executed by her ambitious brothers. More out of
defiance than principle, Margot manages to save both her husband and her lover,
but becomes a de facto prisoner of the palace as a result. Much intrigue will
Queen Margot is one of the
great modern historicals. This is not a polite drawing-room story of men in
tights and women in ruffled collars. While boldly operatic in sweep, Chéreau
has an eye for grimy naturalistic details. He also serves up generous helpings
of blood and sex. Twenty years later, his St. Bartholomew’s Day sequence remains
an overwhelming example of bravura filmmaking. As sheer spectacle, it is an orgiastic
maelstrom of confusion and violence that has yet to be equaled on-screen.
a good twenty years older than the young Margot, Isabelle Adjani still looks
the part, rocking the low cut wardrobe and scorching up the screen during her
love scenes. Ironically, she has better screen chemistry with Daniel Auteuil as
her (mostly) platonic husband Navarre than Vincent Pérez’s La Môle. Similarly, Pérez
comes across somewhat boy-toyish when playing opposite her, but his scenes with
Claudio Amedola as Coconnas, his sworn Catholic rival, crackle with heat and
Queen Margot was originally released,
the shockingly serpentine-looking Virna Lisi received the lion’s share of the
film’s award attention—and she is rather chilling. Yet, in retrospect, the
young Asia Argento often steals the show as Charlotte de Sauve, one of de
Medici’s spies, who falls in love with her target: Navarre.
As is sometimes the case, Queen Margot is better cinema than a French history lesson. When
adapting Dumas père’s fictionalized novel, Chéreau and co-writer Danièle
Thompson frequently chose to print the legend rather than the fact. If you want
dry dates and details, google the characters. For those who prefer to sink
their teeth into a big, lusty, pungent costume drama, the restored director’s
cut of Queen Margot opens this Friday
(5/9) in New York at Film Forum.
Labels: Asia Argento, Daniel Auteuil, French Cinema, Isabelle Adjani, Patrice Chereau