Archives for posts with tag: alan rickman

I seem to recall, when reading minor Dumas novels, that there was a lot of intrigue circling around the building of various of Louis XIV’s stuff, but it was indescribably tedious and I was just waiting for the musketeers to reappear. Or a war, or something. There’s a lot of stuff going on in France under Louis XIV, so you might as well go for the political or military gusto.

This…does not. Nor does it have anything much to do with reality (which it engagingly admits in the pre-film text, which tells you that there was an outdoor ballroom at Versailles, and that, at least, is true). It is, nonetheless, charming.

André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts), in defiance of probability, is young and hot in the early 1680s. He is designing some gardens at Versailles, and he needs some help. So he hires Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), whose lack of artifice is jarring to Le Nôtre’s steadfastly gallic sensibilities, but may be just the touch of genius he needs! Sabine is inexpert at court, but sweetly shepherded around by Rupert Penry-Jones, a godawful mustache, and apparently no ulterior motives, and additionally accepted with suspicious alacrity by Jennifer Ehle as Mme de Montespan. She also manages to avoid inspiring professional jealousy in her various male competitors and to have heart-to-hearts with the King (Alan Rickman) that don’t offend him or get her fired.

She also, of course, falls for Le Nôtre. And this is okay, because his wife (Helen McCrory) is just awful, and her husband is dead and was a cad.

This sounds goofy, and it is. It’s a little inexpert–tries to do too much, makes everyone too humane, overuses artsy camera angles–and not at all subtle. Sabine is a weak link, not because Winslet does anything wrong, but because her character is freighted with vastly too much anachronistic nonsense. No seedy underbelly of 17th century France is visible, no bigotry of any kind, against Huguenots, women, homosexuals, anyone who isn’t French…

So why a 4 out of 5? Charm, chiefly. Stanley Tucci as the Duc d’Orléans and Paula Paul as his wife are gems, lovable caricatures. Rickman’s Louis is perhaps how we’d like to think he was: self-aware, oddly generous, tired of the cares of state but too dutiful to shirk them. Le Nôtre is like nothing on earth, but attractively given to deadpan one-liners.

My best friend said that this movie was rough around the edges but made you wish that Alan Rickman had gotten the chance to direct more films. And it’s true.

Director: Alan Rickman
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes
Score: 4/5

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If you’ve ever asked yourself just how creepy and off-putting Ben Whishaw is capable of being (and, let’s face it, we all have), this is the movie that answers that question. It is rated R for “aberrant behavior,” and the MPAA, she is not joking.

It’s 18th century Paris. Everyone is dirty, wears brown all the time, and smells bad. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Mr. Whishaw, and, no, I am not joking about his character’s name, and, yes, I wish that I was) is born in the worst-smelling part of Paris–the fish market–and eventually as an adolescent orphan works in a tannery. All the other kids hate him because is a terrifying creep who constantly sniffs things because they feel threatened by his god-given unique talent for olfactory sense. Right.

So he smells a girl selling yellow plums, becomes obsessed, startles her badly, inadvertently kills her, then strips her and sniffs her dead body. And then it gets weird. Desperate to capture (her? the perfect? any?) scent, he manages to apprentice himself to Dustin Hoffman as a ridiculously terrible Italian perfumer, where he learns the basics. He then embarks on a killing swath through the south of France so that he can recapture a legendary Egyptian perfume by using eau de dead prostitute. (Thus the subtitle: The Story of a Murderer.)

Then it goes off the rails completely and I can’t really tell you how without spoiling it entirely, and I don’t really want to do that even though I can’t recommend that you watch this movie.

Why? Because it’s just desperately unpleasant. It’s true that the alternatively squalid and opulent portrayal of 1700s France is well done, and that the visuals are often stunning. Alan Rickman bears up pretty well as an actor under the ambient absurdity, but on the other hand both Mr. Whishaw and Mr. Hoffman are emphatically weak. As the film wears on, you find yourself wanting to continue watching, not because you actually have any sympathy with anyone, but because you’re honestly curious how it’ll get itself out of its own coils. I did not find that it did so satisfactorily; you might.

Stray observations:

  • Please wear a shirt, Ben Whishaw. Your air of stylish malnutrition may be appropriate for the part, but people wear shirts. Even crazy people and French people and poor people.
  • As the film barrelled/staggered/wafted towards its close, I seriously considered posting just the word: “What.”

Director: Tom Tykwer
Rating: R. And not the fun kind.
Length: 147 min., which was too long.
Score: 2/5. Stylish, but neither fun to watch nor enlightening.