Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Romance, Epic/Historical
Opens locally Friday, April 22nd, 2011
Run Time: 2 hours, 19 minutes
Starring: Melanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Gaspard Ulliel, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier (Life and Nothing But, A Sunday in the Country)
“The Princess of Montpensier” is a film set in 16th century France, an epic battle between Catholic and Protestants as the backdrop. War in this film only works to bring various men into the plot and/or send them away for a bit, as by all means we are watching a romance. That romance is complicated but very intriguing in a film definitely worth finding.
The Princess of the title has grown up in love with a childhood playmate, the Duke of Guise. But this is a world of kingdoms and hierarchies, where marriage exists primarily as a way to gain political power when two wealthy families merge land and title. Just her luck though, that she is set to marry Guise’s brother, so she can secretly carry on her love affair with Guise even after her arranged marriage.
But wouldn’t you know it, due to some political maneuvering, her plans change drastically when she is instead promised to the Prince of Montpensier. Guise is Montpensier’s best soldier, so he still pops up from time to time making her long for her true love.
This just scratches the surface of a very complex love triangle, or octagon. Despite some plot contrivances and some “only in the movies” developments, the love story is very believable and becomes easier to follow as the movie progresses. We sympathize for the Princess who tries desperately to accept her fate as the Princess of Montpensier, but we also root (as we always do in movies) for her to end up with her true love in the end.
One of the best threads weaved throughout the movie involves a character played by Lambert Wilson, the Count of Chabannes. A skilled warrior, he kills a woman while fending for his life, and his guilt leads him to vow never to fight again. An older man and master to young Prince Montpensier, he is asked to watch over the Princess when the Prince is off at war, and the Count also falls in love with the Princess, while also counseling her at the same time on her dilemma.
The movie is directed by the great Bertrand Tavernier, who has been directing movies since the 60s. There is a feel of nostalgia and great reverence for the period in which the movie is set. Refreshingly, battle sequences in the film are not all “in your face”, as most current action movies feature a series of extreme close-ups of gore, with fast-paced editing creating a feel that we are in the battle. This film has choreographed swordfights shot from a distance, and it works well…this is no action movie, and has a grace about it that makes it worth watching. There are also great insights into “arranged marriages,” a concept we are familiar with but rarely see what an “arranged married life” looks like. The couple’s “first night” together was truly shocking and puts into perspective the personal sacrifices women of the era endured.
At 2 hours and 19 minutes, it may be a bit stretched, and the last third of the film loses some momentum. But all in all “The Princess of Montpensier” is a good film and a worthy romance, with enough action and grit to keep a male audience entertained along the way.
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