His Majesty Minor

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PARIS -- You've got to hand it to Jean-Jacques Annaud -- he'll try anything once. After cavemen in search of fire, bears in the wild, a medieval murder mystery, brother tigers and the battle of Stalingrad, he now takes on Greek mythology. Quite what the public will make of this romp through pre-antiquity involving satyrs, centaurs and humans raised by pigs is anyone's guess. Pitched as a comedy, sprinkled with profanity and plenty of bare flesh, "His Majesty Minor" is an entertaining oddity that may leave audiences perplexed.

The action takes place on a Mediterranean island at a time when, as a title informs us, "the boundaries between men and animals were much more blurred than they are now." The simple-minded Minor (Jose Garcia), having been raised since infancy by a sow named Mauricette, can communicate only in grunts. After falling from a tree he dies but is miraculously returned to life with the faculty of speech, so impressing the village elders that they appoint him to rule over them.

Ensuing hijinks include Minor's seduction of Clytia (Melanie Bernier), the daughter of the patriarch Archeo (Jean-Luc Bideau) who is already betrothed to the young poet Karkos (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), and the growing discontent of the villagers as he introduces such measures as a ban on the eating of pork.

Minor has already visited the nearby mythical forest and enjoyed a carnal encounter with the god Pan, half-man and half-goat, also known as Satyr, played with great relish by Vincent Cassel. But as Minor's troubles accumulate, with even Mauricette expressing jealousy at his infatuation with Clytia, it is Karkos who saves his bacon when the villagers send out a lynch mob.

In those happy, pagan days before Christianity and sundry other religions inflicted a sense of sin and guilt on us, the only taboo was taboo itself, so Annaud is clearly enjoying himself pushing up against the boundaries of taste. Annaud's longtime collaborator Gerard Brach wrote the screenplay while he was seriously ill with cancer (he died a few days after shooting began) and appears to have regarded it as a last testament, larding it with a high quota of transgressive humor and anarchic goings-on.

A blend of farce and fable, the movie is a paean to life, allowing its characters time to ruminate in witty exchanges about the relative merits of pleasure and power. The action rattles along at a high speed, and even if there's a certain amount of silliness involved it's usually watchable. The Mediterranean setting allows Annaud to bathe the proceedings in a rich, golden light that emphasizes the dreamlike quality of the proceedings. He also uses SFX and animatronics to good effect.

Garcia makes the most of a role that involves suffering a wider than usual range of indignities, including a hair-style that makes him look like an extraterrestrial. An excellent ensemble cast includes Rufus as a priapic priest and Claude Brasseur as a dyer much preoccupied with his bowel movements.

Annaud has described filmmaking as "the act of a child." Although only very broadminded parents will think of taking a young person to see this movie, there is a ludic quality to "His Majesty Minor" that ought to appeal to the young at heart.

HIS MAJESTY MINOR
Reperage, StudioCanal, Mediapro
Credits:
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Writers: Gerard Brach, Jean-Jacques Annaud
Producers: Xavier Castano, Jaume Roures
Director of photography: Jean-Marie Dreujou
Production designer: Pierre Queffelean
Music: Javier Navarrete
Costume designer: Pierre-Yves Gayraud
Editor: Noelle Boisson
Cast:
Minor: Jose Garcia
Satyr: Vincent Cassel
Karkos: Sergio Peris-Mencheta
Clytia: Melanie Bernier
Firos: Claude Brasseur
Rectus: Rufus
Archeo: Jean-Luc Bideau
Zima: Taira
Zo: Marc Andreoni
Cataractos: Bernard Haller
Running time -- 101 minutes
No MPAA rating
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