La Reine Margot (1994)
Directed by Patrice Chéreau

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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In 1572 France is divided between warring Catholic and Protestant factions. In an attempt to bring peace to the country, the king's sister Margot is married to the Protestant leader Henri de Navarre. When the most prominent French Protestants gather in Paris to celebrate the marriage, the king's mother, Catherine de Medici, arranges to have them massacred.

Patrice Chéreau's La Reine Margot provides the viewer not only with an enthralling narrative but also with a brilliant evocation of a past time.

Throughout the whole of the movie, the director gives a marvelously vibrant life to his depiction of the world of the late Sixteenth Century by never allowing himself to idealize that era. Instead of presenting the viewer with an idyllic dream of some elegant age, Chéreau reveals to him a harsh world of brutal, dirty men in which violence is an integral part of life, even at the royal court. Not only is the moviegoer allowed to witness endless poisonings and assassinations, he is also shown how noblemen wrestle with one another for the entertainment of their peers, go on hunts, and commit various acts of casual savagery. Even the movie's generally stunning sets and costumes contribute to the impression of authenticity. The royal palace, for instance, is magnificent and beautiful, but it is also gloomy, grimy, and often claustrophobic.

What is more, as the film's sets, costumes, and depictions of the distinctive values and behaviors of a bygone age bring that time to life, they enhance the director's ability to involve the viewer with the struggles and concerns of his often genuinely intriguing characters. Consequently, while neither Margot nor Henri, with whom the narrative is primarily concerned, is a particularly sympathetic character, both are such fascinating and carefully crafted individuals and inhabit such a remarkably well realized universe that they are able to captivate the viewer. The moviegoer is, in fact, drawn into a world of intrigue and danger and made to feel the tension and unease of those who live in such an environment so that he experiences worry when the characters are endangered and pity when they suffer. The scenes depicting the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre are particularly potent, evoking not only the ferocity of those committing the murders but also the sorrow of those being killed.

La Reine Margot is not without its faults, however. While the film is visually and narratively captivating, a number of the characters are less than satisfying. Catherine de Medici is reduced to a scheming evil witch and, being little more than a caricature, is not particularly interesting. The Duc D'Anjou, the king's younger brother, is similarly simplified into an uninteresting villain, and Margot's lover, La Môle, is a virtual non-entity, despite the fact that a number of interesting narrative elements are centered around him.

Whatever its problems, La Reine Margot is an impressive, lavish film and evokes in the viewer feelings of tension, concern, and compassion.

Review by Keith Allen

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