April 22, 2010

Queen Margot (La Reine Margot) 1994

Directed by Patrice Chereau
Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas
Starring Isabelle Adjani, Daniel Auteuil, Vincent Perez, Virna Lisi

The film Queen Margot is an adaptation of a novel based on the true-life story of the 1572 Massacre of St. Bartholomew in France. The historical accuracy of the film is somewhat questionable being that it is a fictional representation of a novel based on actual events, but certainly the liberties taken only serve to enhance both the beauty and horror of the tale.

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew, in history, occurred on April 24, 1572 on the feast of St. Bartholomew in Paris and triggered similar massacres throughout the countryside. The tragic events of the first evening followed on the heels of several other occasions: namely, the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye which put an end to the third War of Religion on 8 August 1570, the marriage between Henry III of Navarre and Margaret of Valois on 18 August 1572, and the failed assassination of Admiral de Coligny on 22 August 1572. The Paris massacre itself seems to have been orchestrated by the royal family, specifically Catherine de Medici, mother of Margaret of Valois, and her ruling son Charles IX of France. The Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) were the targets and were slaughtered by the Catholics. While no single figure counting the final dead was ever assembled, modern estimates set the number at anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000.

From The Catholic Encyclopedia:
"Toward midnight the troops took up arms in and around the Louvre, and Coligny's abode was surrounded. A little before daybreak the sound of a pistol-shot so terrified Charles IX and his mother that, in a moment of remorse, they despatched a nobleman to Guise to bid him refrain from any attack on the admiral, but the order came too late; Coligny had already been slain."
"Whilst their servants were being slaughtered Henry of Bourbon and the Prince of Condé were ordered to appear before the king, who tried to make them abjure, but they refused.
After that the massacre spread through Paris, and Crucé, a goldsmith, Koerver, a bookseller, and Pezou, a butcher, battered in the doors of the Huguenot houses."
"On the following morning blood flowed in streams; the houses of the rich were pillaged regardless of the religious opinions of their owners. 'To be a Huguenot,' emphatically declares Mézeray, the historian, 'was to have money, enviable position, or avaricious heirs.' When at eleven o'clock in the morning the Prévot Le Charron came to inform the king of this epidemic of crime, an edict was issued forbidding a continuation of the slaughter; but the massacre was prolonged for several days more, and on 25 August Ramus, the celebrated philosopher, was assassinated in spite of the formal prohibition of the king and queen. The number of victims is unknown."

Such a violent bloodletting is a gruesome subject matter for a film so it should come as no surprise that Queen Margot is suitably blood-soaked in appearance. By turns sumptuous, horrific, tragic, and passionate, it revels in both the visceral gore of the story and the underlying tensions, betrayals, and love that motivated them in the first place. It is gorgeous, even at it's bloodiest, and the performances throughout are nothing short of absolutely arresting. It takes liberties with the facts of history and the narrative continues after the massacre has concluded, tracing the fates of the key players - specifically Henry of Navarre, Margaret (Margot) of Valois, Margot's brother King Charles IX, her mother Catherine de Medici, and her lover La Mole - but none of the liberties detract from the lingering impact of the film. It is a fascinating exploration of both religious tension, familial duty and corruption, love, and the oft-times twisted power of politics. Isabelle Adjani, as Margot, is luminous but reveals that beneath her celestial beauty lies a fierce heart and steely resolve. Verna Lisi as Catherine de Medici is equally terrifying in her silences as her speeches.

There is no clear villain, despite the massacre, nor hero such as we are used to seeing on screen. Wickedness begets wickedness, passion ignites passion, and everyone suffers. Armed with a bit of historical pre-knowledge the film will be more enjoyable as it is an epic twisting thing to unravel without context. And definitely watch the film the way it was intended: in French. Don't get a dubbed version, get a subtitled one, because the beauty of the language is part of the beauty of the film and should not be separated from it.

April 18, 2010


Also because her days sassing around the graveyard shift and unbuttoning her shirt in interrogations seem numbered. Let's celebrate the inappropriate-for-a-crime-scene outfits and sassy bossy glory of Catherine while we can, shall we?

Tangentially related: Dear Dr. Who Producers, Please hire Marg Helgenberger to play Amy Pond's aunt. Thank you.