Though practically two and a half hours long, The Princess of Montpensier flies by thanks to its immersion in the fascinating lifestyles and antiquated rituals of 16th century France, its flawless locations and costuming, a very dense and winding storyline, and the direction of Bertrand Tavernier, one of the infallible directors as far as the Cannes set is concerned. It came out into limited release a few weeks ago, but I thought it deserved some attention before it disappeared from every theater.
Marie (Mélanie Thierry, Babylon A.D.) is forced to marry the Prince of Montpensier, even though her heart belongs to her dashing and courageous cousin, Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel, A Very Long Engagement). She tries to make the best of it, burying her feelings for Henri, and endeavoring to educate herself as best she can in her new regal responsibilities through the instruction of her husband’s trusted master, the Comte de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson, The Matrix Revolutions). As circumstance keeps pushing Henri into their company, the prince grows increasingly jealous, and soon Marie is forced to choose between responsibility and passion. If this were an American movie, you’d already know how this was going to play out. Heads up, folks, this movie is French, so in the arena of responsibility versus passion, it’s anyone’s game.
This film is as much a love letter to filmmaking’s old guard and the craft before the era of digital manipulation as it is about the story. Even though there are very complicated battle scenes involving many extras, explosions, and swordplay on horseback, it’s clear that it was all done without the aide of any digital wizardry. I’m pretty sure I even spotted at least one example of a guy getting stabbed by tucking a sword under his arm. Those sequences are extremely complex, very chaotic, and meticulously choreographed to wonderful effect. It’s nice to see something executed in such a REAL way given that every modern film is run through at least three different computer systems before ending up on film again. Nothing about this picture is haphazard. Tavernier is clearly a very premeditated director, and the film unfolds at a break neck pace from the very beginning.
The real gems of the film, as far as I’m concerned, come whenever it takes the time to marvel at an old custom that’s so far removed from the modern world as to seem shocking. Arranged marriages are no surprise, but the very slow and deliberate scene in which Marie is prepared for the wedding night in front of her father’s eyes, before he goes to play chess in the next room, and a GROUP OF PEOPLE observe the consummation of the marriage to insure that she was a virgin came as a bit of an eye opener to me. It was as tastefully done as possible, but before you head into the theater you should know that this film is NR for Not Rated. All of the sex scenes are very discrete, but there is nudity, and in one instance the very graphic dismemberment of what I believe is a real boar.
I never could really buy into Henri’s love for Marie though. That was one of the only things that bothered me about the film. How can she think this guy is really in love with her when he can’t have one conversation with her without his hand on her breast? For real. Any time they’re alone, he’s keeps one hand free for gesturing in conversation and the other one has a firm grip on the front of her dress. Maybe this is like a French handshake? I’m not sure, I took Spanish in high school.
– Jake Jarvi