I’ve finally seen Bertrand Tavernier‘s The Princess of Montpensier (IFC Films, 4.15 in theatres, 4.20 on demand) after missing it at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The initial response was not wildly enthusiastic, so I was rather surprised to find that this historical drama of intimacy, set in 16th Century France during the Catholic vs. Huguenot wars, is one of the most intriguing erotic trips I’ve taken in a long while.
Partly because the occasionally undressed lead, Melanie Thierry, performs in a way that feels rather prim and Grace Kelly-ish, an all-but-extinct vibe or romantic brand in films today. But mostly because the movie is mostly about unrequited desire and hardly at all about consummation. It’s probably not bawdy or obvious enough for most viewers, but I felt and believed this film without the slightest discomfort, and I never wanted to turn it off or multitask as I watched.
The story is basically about four or five guys who can think of little else but having Thierry, and who spend most of their screen time being told “if only,” “no,” “now now,” “yes but” and so on. I only know that the combination of Thierry, the feeling of sensual restraint or suppression, and the generally realistic and non-movieish atmosphere created by Tavernier and his team (including some excellent hand-to-hand combat and duelling scenes) feels right and believable and on-the-money.
It’s delightful when a film drops you into an exotic time-trip visitation without making this world seem arch or “performed” or overly prettified or set-decorated within an inch of its life. I’ve never thought of Tavernier as a director who excels or even cares about violent action and/or mercury-popping eroticism, but maybe I need to go back to watch some of his films.
I didn’t expect to say this, but I felt as stirred and satisfied and convinced by The Princess of Montpensier as I was by Andrzej Wajda‘s Danton (’83), a superb historical drama about the post-revolutionary “terror.”