Marquise [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Film Movement
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (25th March 2019).
The Film

Early in the eighteenth century during the reign of the Sun King, playwright Molière (Ridicule's Bernard Giraudeau) and his acting troupe stops over in an impoverished village on the way to Paris. They discover that there is less interest in their comedies than the intermission dancing of gypsy girl Marquise (La Fidélité's Sophie Marceau) who is being pimped by her father (Frantic's Patrice Melennec). Lead actor René Du Parc (Little Indian, Big City's Patrick Timsit) – nicknamed Gros-René due to his girth – is immediately entranced by the girl and proposes marriage, offering her a career in exchange for her affection whereupon Marquise resolves to "give up dancing vertically and horizontally." When she is struck dumb during her first state performance, however, she is relegated back to dancing during intermissions to prevent the audience from getting bored; she does, however, she comes to the notice of a fey aristocrat Lully (The Story of Women's Franck de la Personne) who is the patron to his composer brother Jean-Baptiste (Café Europa's Remo Girone) and the young playwright Racine (The Belly of the Architect's Lambert Wilson) who commissions a play for the king to showcase Marquise's dancing at Versailles. Marquise at first refuses to dance, demanding instead that Molière teach her to act. When he scoffs at her request after she has slept with him, Marquise storms off and is prevented from jumping into the Seine by Racine whose philosophy is that one has no control over their destiny and to become what is wanted of one and bask in the glory. Marquise makes an impression when she dances for King Louis XIV (A Private Affair's Thierry Lhermitte), particularly when she does a backflip without her underwear, but Molière discovers that the king's favor only goes so far when he is ordered to give up his play Tartuffe so as not to upset the church, and to instead stage Racine's play The Thebans. The comedy troupe fears they will make a farce of tragedy, and their rehearsals are laughed off the stage. Marquise creates enmity among the players when she demands upstages the lead actress with her own reading, but Racine sees in Marquise talent that Molière stubbornly ignores, offering her the lead in his play Andromaque. Marquise refuses the role due to her ties to Molière's company and loyalty to Rene. Racine is so in love with Marquise that he is willing to kill to possess her, approaching black magic practitioner of black magic for a spell to rid him of his romantic rival; however, Rene falls sick on his own and dies on stage. Marquise initially plans to give up acting until her envious maid Marie (From Hell's Estelle Skornik) convinces her that her husband's name will live on through her own performances. Marquise becomes Racine's mistress and his lead actress, realizing her ambition and moving in high circles, but also coming to respect Molière's uncompromising convictions and disdain Racine using her to currying favor and social climb.

Although based on true events about the rise and fall of Mademoiselle Du Parc, Marquise takes several liberties with the historical documentation, not only of her life but the careers of Molière and Racine; however, the film is neither comedy nor tragedy but farce, and its characterization of Marquise is in keeping with the protagonists of director Véra Belmont whose autobiographical Red Kiss was based on her experience becoming disillusioned with the French young communist party, and whose Milena was about a young woman striving to become the first female doctor in Czechoslovakia. Belmont's Marquise is exploited in varying degrees by the men in her life but either finds leverage or upstages them defiantly (often while doing what they asked or demanded of her), using her body and charms almost nobly such as when she propositions a palace guard to gain an audience with the king when Molière's theater is seized by creditors. Like those she detests for compromising, she too is ultimately subject to the whims of a king who thinks nothing of accepting an audience during a bowel movement or removing his wig before his court to bathe in the fountain at a Versailles still under construction. Like most favored members of the court, she learns to holds her own against him and the catty salon of his wife with wit and gentle barbs but she must ultimately lower herself; and her penultimate show of defiant submission is the beginning of her downfall (in a much more romantic fashion than suggested by historical records and supposition). Georges Wilson (Beatrice Cenci), Romina Mondello (Wax Mask), Beatrice Palme (Cinema Paradiso), Simón Andreu (Flesh + Blood), and Antonio Cantafora (The Bitch) also star.


Strangely unreleased in the United States during the heyday of the late nineties arthouse prestige film craze – one would've thought it would have been a natural for awards-baiting Miramax – Marquise was difficult to see in English-friendly form. Film Movement's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen is derived from a new 2K digital restoration and displays a wealth of textures muddy and rustic even when the lighting does its best to ape the work of Philippe Rousselot with candles, close-up china ball lighting, and plenty of smoke while primary colors and golds pop in the wardrobe and décor amidst a lot of blacks, browns, and grays. Skintones veer towards the pink behind the white theatrical make-up, although that ruddiness is perhaps appropriate to the period, especially in a film which delights in contrasting the fanciful porcelain beauty of the female cast members (along with Wilson) with the grotesque in almost everyone else.


The early Dolby Stereo Digital mix is reprodued in LPCM 2.0 and is rich in directional effects during exteriors and crowd scenes (including theatrical performances) while the scoring is given more spread across the speakers than the diegetic music (the volume of which is appropriate to the position in depth of the musicians). Optional English subtitles are provided.


The disc's principal extra is an interview with director Véra Belmont (18:51) in which she discusses getting her start as a producer and learning by doing, signing on a loan to fund Paul Vecchiali's The Devil's Tricks without realizing she had to reimburse it and then using the profits from José Giovanni's Law of Survival to pay it back. She recalls when she felt that she was ready to direct a film of her own, and she and the offscreen moderator discuss the recurring feminist themes of her pictures. In talking about Marquise, she recalls the idea conceived by journalist friend Jean-François Josselin, the decision to shoot much of the film in Italy because the villages and the old theatres have not undergone the type of restoration and renovation seen in French historical locations. She also discusses the film's visualization of the period and how it was influenced by her love of Italian and American film. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (1:56) and trailers for three other films. Of much value is the booklet by film professor Laurence Marie which provides plenty of historical context to the film giving the viewer an idea of just how little the film's events paralleled history.



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