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I saw The Princess of Montpensier a few weeks ago. (Note: "Montpensier" is pronounced mon-pon-seay, but if you want to butcher it, like I did when ordering my ticket at the counter, just OWN the D you got in College French 101.)

Based on a short story by Madame de La Fayette (who also wrote the wonderful La Princesse de Clèves), the film is directed by Bertrand Tavernier and features a host of good-looking French actors and actresses traipsing around Angers and Maine-et-Loire in dejection, anger, or noble duty. While gorgeous to look at, the film is long, and, if you aren’t fresh from a history cruise on the Wars of Religion (cheat sheet!), you might curse your history teacher and his disregard of European olden times so that the class could re-review the Revolutionary War. But enough about my sub-par high school education, on with the film!

At its core, The Princess of Montpensier is about a woman stuck in a love rectangle. Yes, you heard me. This is a French film people; obviously they have to up the ante of romance and passion. So while the film takes place during war-time, it’s more about the war of groins (or emotions, whatever). But what could be soapy drama is balanced out by the fervent attention to realism and detail of life in the 16th century.

(SPOILERS) The film begins, not with the Princess, but with the Comte de Chabannes, handsoming his way through the war with his equally handsome page. (At some point in the film, I started wondering if anyone in 16th century France could be as attractive as this ensemble, or if I just need a better skin care regime.) Mr. Comte soon runs into trouble, but is saved by the equally good looking Prince de Montpensier, who has a history with Comte and takes him under his wing.

The Prince soon finds out he is to be married to rich girl Marie, who, unfortunately is in love with Henri de Guise, who has a scar on his face and co-stars in perfume commercials on the weekends. Soon, both men, along with Comte, are vying (with various successes) for Marie’s heart, including the Queen’s son Prince d'Anjou, who, equipped with heavy eyeliner, resembles the glorious _other_ Prince.
I'm watching you, Eyeliner!

What I really liked about this period piece, was that every character was complex, well-thought out, and at the mercy of unforgiving societal rules (because I LOVE some suffering!). While Marie is forced to marry a man she doesn’t love, the prince is a pretty stand-up guy, and makes the best of their relationship, which is quite awkward as they are virtual strangers. Marie also tries to make the marriage work, even though it is apparent that she abhors the role of a noble wife, and wants the freedom to not only love who she wants to love, but read what she wants to read and think what she wants to think.

Throughout the film, she finds this release through the Comte, who establishes himself as her tutor and confidant. In fact, the Comte treats her with far more respect and understanding than any of the other men who claim to love her. If anything, this film is a proponent of male-female friendship, and to always watch out for the guy in the eyeliner.

While some audiences might be put off by The Princess of Montpensier's slow pace and focus on 16th century aristocracy (it was actually booed by some critics when it premiered at Cannes), I enjoyed the film's touch on the topics of loneliness, duty, and alienation. Especially since each character in the Princess's rectangle experience each of these factors in at least some form. (END SPOILERS)

See This: If you like accurate, “slice of life” period pieces that are slow on plot, but deep in character development such as Ann of the Thousand Days and Lady Jane.

Avoid: If you want fast-paced, bodice ripping action. This is not The Tudors.

If You Like This Film: I recommend The Heiress, another female-centered, period piece film with a slow burn, but  a great payoff with the ending.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 6th, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
You will walk away pleased! (Unlike the whole cast of this film.)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

About Eileen

This is the LiveJournal of Eileen, an editor and columnist at Defenestration Magazine. She hates everything, including third-person bios.

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