Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Film Review: The Princess of Montpensier (2011)

Film Review: The Princess of Montpensier
By Payman Akhlaghi
The Princess of Montpensier" (2010/11, Fr.)
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier (b. 1941)
Music: Philippe Sarde (b. 1945)
Based on the novel by
Madame de la Fayatte (1634-1693)

© Copyright: 2011, All text by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Every film by Bertrand Tavernier is a special treat; and "The Princess of Montpensier" is no exception.

This is a costume drama with real soul, thanks to an inspired casting; beautiful cinematography; shining color spectrum; camera movements as stylish on Steadicam as they're on tracks; beautiful locations; and impeccable mis-en-scène. But above all, the film owes its immense vitality to the director's acute sense of drama, control of rhythm, and espeically, his empathetic humane vision, seemingly a constant of his cinematic oeuvre, regardless of the period in which his stories take place.

Tavernier tells us an early Renaissance story of love and war, power and greed, dogma and freedom, but above all, one of a young woman's tragic fate in the context of patriarchal world, adapted from arguably the first novel ever written. Despite the temporal gap, there's a rare sense of relevance and immediacy maintained throughout, generated by selective dialogues, a linear narrative, decidedly unaffected performances, and hand-held camera movements. In a way, this film is successful against its presumed genre, because the director has deliberately made a "historical film" while avoiding many of the all too common, albeit successful, formulae of grandeur and exalted emotions, often encountered in the so-called Epic dramas.

In short, the characters of this historical film come across as close to us in their moments of intimacy, as in the horror of their bloody sword fights; and they feel as tangible to us as the modern people portrayed in his 1974 masterpiece of a social drama, "The Clockmaker of St. Paul."

Needless to say that "Montpensier" would have been incomplete without yet another sensitive score by Philippe Sarde, who has drawn on period timbres and harmonies, haunting percussive rhythms, and lush string sonorities, to define emotional content of the scenes, accentuate the actions, and authenticate the aural atmosphere of the period. I first began to admire Sarde's melodic sense in Cluade Berri's "Lucie Aubrac" (1997). His music for this new film, while conspicuously different from the former, projects yet another dimension of his personal dramatic sensitivities.

I heard of Bertrand Tavernier first ca. 1987, when I saw his "Clockmaker of St. Paul" (1974) dubbed in Persian, on a Tehran screen. That film is an uncompromisingly powerful account of a social drama, examining the nature of rebellion among the modern youth. So memorable in its content and style, and not the least, for the sweet face of Phillipe Noiret, Clockmaker has never left me ever since. Next came his "Safe Conduct" (2002), a story of conscience in times of corruption, based on a true story which took place during the WWII France. "Safe Conduct" alone would be enough to register Tavernier a one of the humanistic, and conscientious directors of our time. Finally, last night, as I watched Montpensier for the second night in a row on the big screen, I realized that the realistic, yet not gory (!), battle scenes of the film couldn't have been achieved if Tavernier had not already practiced on the genre a few years before, in his sweet natured "Return of the Musketeers" (1994).

© Copyright: 2011, All text by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist, and piano teacher, who offers piano lessons -- and lessons in composition and sightsinging -- in Western Classical and Pop, as well as Persian music, covering the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West LA, Santa Monica, Brentwood Culver City, Encino, and their surrounding neighborhoods. Payman holds a BA and an MA both in Music (Composition) from UCLA, and he's currently working on his dissertation toward the degree of PhD, also in Composition. For information on lessons at your home, or performance engagements, please call (310) 208-2927, or send an email to

پیمان اخلاقی آهنگساز، پیانیست و آموزندۀ فن نوازندگی پیانو، مقیم لس آنجلس است. پیمان دارای مدارک لیسانس و فوق لیسانس در رشتۀ آهنگسازی از یو سی ال ای است، و در حال حاضر مشغول کار بر تز دکترای خویش در همین رشته است. در صورتی که مایل به کسب اطلاعات بیشتر پیرامون تدریس در منزل خود و یا ارائۀ برنامه در کنسرت ها و مراسم عروسی یا اردوور هستید، لطفا با شماره تلفن یا ایمیل زیر تماس حاصل کنید:
Piano Lessons Covering the Greater Los Angeles Area
Classical, Pop, Film, Persian Music
Solo Piano Performance at Private Recitals, Weddings, Receptions, etc.
(310) 208-2927

[Payman Akhlaghi, (Peyman Akhlaghi), پیمان اخلاقی, Akhlagi, Aklagi, Aklaghi]


human said...

payman, i'm sharing this on fb from here, so it will bring people back to your blog. you are so productive, i don't have time to read all your work in real time. thanks for the review

Payman Akhlaghi ----- ( پیمان اخلاقی ) said...

Dear Human, thank you so very much. I'm humbled, by your kind attention, in the real world... -- Payman

Payman Akhlaghi ----- ( پیمان اخلاقی ) said...

May I note that I avoided elaborating on the social and cuultural content of the film, in the body of the review. (Not my expertise; too long a review already.)

The film is decidedly made in "defense of women", but in disguise and with subtlety. Tavernier, being smart and sophisticated, also limited by the constraints involving an adaptation of a centuries-old novel, knows when "not to overdo it," letting the story speak for itself, and having trust in its audience.

Nevertheless, I did refer to the "tragic fate of women" in patriarchal societies, only in the passing -- to avoid overdoing it, as well:)

But I think that's the main underlying theme, a world when women's bodies are treated more or less as properties, and their life, aspirations and ambitions, are ignored. Yet, as a ray of hope, the story takes place at a historical juncture, when a woman -- writer or the character -- is beginning to protest the status quo, silently but alarmingly. -- Payman A.