Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 7:10 pm 
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The opening night movie of a well attended film series tends to be something lightweight and a bit glitzy that’s designed to be a deliberate crowd-pleaser, and the Rendez-Vous’s 2006 gala opener -- featuring Catherine Deneuve as a haughty queen mother -- is an elaborate, sometimes vulgar and slapstick, but mostly fluffy comedy about a principality like Monaco or Luxembourg and the things that happen when its ruler suddenly dies. The late king’s spoiled second son ascends to the throne bypassing his more serious, well-educated older brother because the latter isn’t married. Arnaud’s do-gooder wife (played by the writer/director, French comic Valérie Lemercier, a popular French comedienne more known in the US for starring in Claire Denis's well received and serious sexual adventure Friday Night/Vendredi soir).

Lemercier's character gradually turns into an ambitious new princess like Lady Di, and along with general laugh-manufacture, the film constitutes a satire on such behavior and the packaging and promoting of modern-day high-visibility “royals.” There is no faulting the actors, and Deneuve is as droll as she’s elegant, Lambert Wilson is stylish as the lazy new king, Michel Aumont is imposing as the chief of protocol and Michel Vuillermoz is appealing as the sad elder prince. But though Palais Royal! moves as rapidly as a comedy should, it’s a bit hard to be interested in this theme at a time when people are starving and being tortured and real social gaps are between rich and poor, with a feudal aristocracy no longer a real issue.

We begin with future king, wife, and two best friends on a shopping spree in London, and there is nothing to like about these spoiled people – which of course is the point; and the French are good at doing grumpy, obnoxious snobs (Pierre Bakri in last year's Look at Me/Comme une image is a splendid example) – but this makes it hard to stay interested in these folks. It's also hard to read the subtitles, and I couldn't follow the fast "comic" dialogue. Probably only the French people in Alice Tully Hall were able to find that dialogue consistently funny, and only some of them. Clearly there was a lot of word-play that the subtitles, when one could read them, obviously was struggling to convey.

The glitzy fluff was there, there was fluency in the flow of the action, there was a satirical point of view, there were highly regarded actors. And if it was hard to sit through this and make it to the wine and cheese and French celebrities, I was, after all, gearing up for the whole Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, and watching fifteen handpicked new French films in a row still seems like a pretty soft job.

(Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2006 opening night presentation, March 2006; Palais Royal! opened in Paris November 23, 2005.)

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