I love movies that transport me to a different time and place. Bertrand Tavernier has said that with this film his goal was to make a tale of 16th century France seem so vivid and immediate that there would be no distance between the viewer and the characters on screen. That’s no small feat, but he has accomplished it with style and grace, as you would expect from this humanistic and virtuosic director.
From the muddy, bloody opening battle scene—brilliantly shot by cinematographer Bruno de Keyzer—through the exposition of life behind castle walls, where a beautiful girl (the glowing Mélanie Thierry) learns she has no say in her own destiny, everything about this story resonates and
rings true. The incredible scene of Thierry’s wedding night, which I won’t spoil by describing in detail, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a period picture. Passions, both expressed and repressed, run high in this sweeping romantic drama, beautifully scored by Philippe Sarde.
This is the second time within a span of months that I have been impressed by Lambert Wilson—first, in the leading role of Of Gods and Men and now in this film, where he plays a warrior who puts down his sword and becomes a tutor and guardian to the unworldly Princess. A commanding actor, he makes the most of a multifaceted role, embodying grace, authority and even vulnerability.
There are a few lulls in the telling of the densely-plotted drama, based on a short story by Madame de la Fayette and adapted by Tavernier in collaboration with Jean Cosmos and François-Olivier Rousseau. But we are amply rewarded for our patience with well-drawn characters, spectacular French locations, and a richly entertaining film that manages to be both cerebral and sensual. The Princess of Montpensier will be available on demand from Sundance Selects beginning April 20, but if you have an opportunity to see it on a theater screen, don’t miss out.