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PARIS — A fictional French heroine from the time of Louis XIV is resuscitated for the big screen in Angelique: Marquise des Anges from Ariel Zeitoun, a producer and occasional director from the stable of Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp.
The Angelique novels, written by Anne Golon and her husband, Serge, have reportedly sold over 150 million copies since they were published in the 1950s. They were adapted for the screen in the 1960s by director Bernard Borderie, with Michelle Mercier, Robert Hossein and Jean Rochefort headlining the sprawling cast. However, these films were quite conservative in that the titular heroine was more of an object than the subject, though this has been rectified in the new film, in which Nora Arnezeder (Faubourg 36) incarnates the young but strong-willed protagonist who’s married off against her will to an ugly but rich nobleman she doesn’t even know, Joffrey de Peyrac (Gerard Lanvin).
There’s a nostalgia factor at work for French audiences, who’ll remember the original films or have since caught up via countless re-runs, that won’t offer quite the same draw abroad, though the film has already been sold to many European territories including Germany, much of Eastern Europe and Russia.
In the mid-1600s France, Angelique (Arnezeder) is married by her practically penniless aristocratic father (Matthieu Boujenah) to the Count of Peyrac, a man whose fortune is so great, people whisper he’s practically as rich as the Sun King himself, Louis XIV (David Kross), who’s still in his early 20s. The riches of Peyrac, who had an accident in his youth and has a huge scar on his face and a limp as result, stem from a gold mining operation that utilizes a new technique to extract the precious metal, though his adversaries claim he’s a sorcerer who can turn things into gold.
Initially, Angelique rebels and tries to make love to the handsome Nicolas (Mathieu Kassovitz) so that she’ll be defiled and thus won’t have to marry a man she doesn’t know. But her father, her uncle (Miguel Herz-Kestranek) and her insidious cousin, Philippe (Tomer Sisley), “save” her and manage to deliver her to Peyrac.
In a nice twist, Peyrac may be ugly and older — even a lot older than in the book in this adaptation — but he’s also an expert at understanding people and Angelique is impressed when he doesn’t freak out when she provocatively shows up for their wedding wearing pants. In order for the film to work, the relationship between the unlikely duo, which slowly evolves into respect and then love, has to be believable and at the same time not undermine Angelique’s fierce individuality. Thankfully, Zeitoun and his Belgian co-screenwriter, Philippe Blasband, working from a story summary by the novelists’ daughter, Nadia Golon, manage to do just that, and Arnezeder and Lanvin imbue their characters with both their own eccentricities and a pleasing sense of complicity.
The film’s best set piece involves the visit of Louis XIV and his extravagantly dressed entourage to the surface mine where Peyrac extracts his gold. Kross, so good as the shy and naive lead in The Reader opposite Kate Winslet, is an unexpected but perfect fit for the imperious Louis the Great and the film’s occasional detours into Saturday matinee material is never more evident than here, where a handful of bad guys scheme to do harm to one person but their plans go delightfully awry. Most of the action is relatively light but well staged and, something increasingly uncommon, flows directly from the needs of the narrative.
Costume and production design are opulent and the cinematography of regular Werner Herzog collaborator Peter Zeitlinger is entirely in tune with the film’s generally-old-school-with-a-dash-of-feminism feel.
Opens: Dec. 18 (in France)
Production companies: Ajoz Films, EuropaCorp, France 3 Cinema, Climax Films, Mona Film, Wilma Film
Cast: Nora Arnezeder, Gerard Lanvin, Tomer Sisley, David Kross, Mathieu Kassovitz, Simon Abkarian, Matthieu Boujenah, Miguel Herz-Kestranek, Julian Weigend, Rainer Frieb, Florence Coste
Director: Ariel Zeitoun
Screenwriters: Nadia Golon, Philippe Blasband, Ariel Zeitoun, screenplay based on the novel by Anne Golon, Serge Golon
Producers: Emmanuel Jacquelin, Olivier Rausin, Filip Hering, Gerald Podgorny
Director of photography: Peter Zeitlinger
Production designer: Patrick Durand
Music: Nathaniel Mechaly
Costume designers: Edith Vesperini, Stephan Rollot
Editors: Philippe Bourgeuil, Jennifer Auge
No rating, 113 minutes.
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