The Other Dumas -- Film Review

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PARIS -- The story sells itself: Alexandre Dumas, the famous French novelist, employed a collaborator-scribe named Auguste Maquet to help with the research, plotting and other heavy lifting for his much-loved adventure novels including "The Three Musketeers" and "The Count of Monte Cristo." One day, Maquet, tired of living in Dumas' shadow, is prompted by a young woman's plea for help and her misidentification of him to pass himself off as the great writer.

With such a premise and stars of the order of Gerard Depardieu and Benoit Poelvoorde leading the lineup, Safy Nebbou's "The Other Dumas" stands every chance of making waves at home and abroad, combining popular appeal with critical credibility.

The larger-than-life Dumas (Depardieu, in a role made to measure) and the shy, introspective Maquet (Poelvoorde) are diametrically opposed by nature but have formed a fruitful working relationship. This comfortable (for Dumas) state of affairs is thrown into confusion when Charlotte (Melanie Thierry), the daughter of an imprisoned revolutionary, decides to seek help from the writer and pitches her appeal to the wrong man.

A chain of misunderstandings complicated by romantic rivalry ensues, drawing in Celeste (Dominique Blanc), Dumas' secretary and longtime mistress, and Caroline (Catherine Mouchet), Maquet's wife. The stakes are raised when Charlotte asks Maquet to help her hide a stash of weapons to be used in overthrowing the monarchy.

The filmmakers have billed the movie as a tragi-comedy, but the comedy is muted, and the downbeat ending is more a matter of unrequited love and frustrated ambition than real tragedy. The humor is mostly verbal and bantering and owes much to Gilles Taurand's sharp dialogue.

Although the women's roles are substantial, the core of the movie is the tension between the celebrity writer and his hired hand. Here, helmer Nebbou is superbly served by his male leads. The movie's strength is its understatement, and Poelvoorde, clearly playing against type, is admirable in his self-restraint. Depardieu, too, makes a little go a long way.

Nebbou wisely lets the story and performances speak for themselves, confining his personal flourishes mainly to an extravagant "orientalist" ball that Dumas stages at his chateau.

He also allows Maquet the last word in this engaging, well-crafted film, a plea from his last will and testament that his creative contribution to Dumas' work be properly recognized. Maquet might have had a raw deal from history, but this movie goes a little way toward making amends.

Opened: Wednesday, Feb. 10 (France)
Production: Film Oblige, UGC Images, K2, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Benoit Poelvoorde, Dominique Blanc, Melanie Thierry, Catherine Mouchet, Jean-Christophe Bouvet, Philippe Magnan, Florence Pernel, Christian Abart
Director: Safy Nebbou
Screenwriters: Gilles Taurand, Safy Nebbou
Based on the play by: Cyril Gely, Eric Roquette
Producers: Frank Le Wita, Marc de Bayse
Director of photography: Stephane Fontaine
Production designer: Cyril Gomez-Mathieu
Music: Hughes Tabar-Nouval
Editor: Bernard Sasia
No rating, 105 minutes
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