Author: Mudede, Charles
Date published: May 18, 2011
THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER
Nothing at all is wrong with Bertrand Tavernier's medieval fairy tale The Princess of Montpensier. Now, let's take a quick step back: I think James Joyce once said that everywhere in nature we see God's doing, but not God himself. In this film-which is set in a time of trouble (South Africans call it "mfecane"), a time of religious wars-we see the director's doings in every aspect of the work, but, unlike God, the director, Tavernier, really exists. He has made many films in the past, and in this particular film, his genius is found in the details.
Let's take another step back. The star of this movie is not the princess (Mélanie Thierry-"A pouty, neo-Bardot beauty," Manohla Dargis calls her) but the count, played by Lambert Wilson. We must take yet another step back. This time we go to The Matrix Reloaded. In that film, Wilson is the Merovingian, a decadent and aristocratic programmer who likes to curse in French because it's "like wiping your ass with silk." As with the Merovingian, the Count de Chabannes is an aristocrat, but there their similarities end. The count in Montpensier is wise, thoughtful, and erudite. He thinks about the stars, herbs, poetry, politics, the art of war, and the meaning of life. However, it is below these outstanding qualities and Wilson's performance that we really see the hand of the director.
The count opens the film by killing, while in battle, a pregnant woman who attacks him. He spends the rest of the film scrubbing things, trying to remove the blood off his hands, clothes, sword, and mind. The humanist has been soiled by his crime against humanity. In one scene, he even aggressively scrubs a white horse with dry grass or twigs. The film ends with his redemption, and you leave the theater with a feeling of great admiration for this fairy-tale count.