Love stinks for the Princess of Montpensier

. June 5, 2012.

A Parisian once told me French people turn thumbs down on any movie without love as a major theme. If that’s true, theaters screening “Princess of Montpensier,” should be packed. Despite a few grisly battle scenes, love is everything in this French language production.

“Princess of Montpensier,” is set in Renaissance-era France, amidst the bloody battles between the Huguenots (Protestant Calvinists) and the mainly Catholic nobility.

Marie de Mezieres (Melanie Thierry) is a pawn in her family’s hands, part of their efforts to gain power, land and money. While she’s in love with her handsome, passionate and dashing cousin, Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), she’s engaged to his handsome but boring brother Mayenne (Cesar Domboy).

Filthy commerce intervenes.

When the Duc de Montpensier (Michel Vuillermoz) offers her father, the Marquis (Philippe Magnan), a parcel of land the older men fought over in exchange for Marie’s marriage to his son, Prince Philippe (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), the die is cast. Marie refuses at first, thinking a convent would be the better choice, but her mother talks her into marriage, reassuring her that love is no reason to marry. She says she never loved Marie’s father and is very happy without it.

Marie agrees, the marriage is celebrated and then all hell breaks out.

No one can resist Marie. She is gorgeous, proud and bright, wrecking havoc on all the men in her orbit.

Who are her suitors?

There’s the Duc d’Anjou (Raphael Personnaz), the brother of the King, a charming and oddly relatively moral man, her tutor, the semi-traitorous Comte de Chabannes, (Lambert Wilson) hired to prepare her for her introduction to the royal court, her old love de Guise and of course, her husband.

Needless to say everything ends badly, reflecting the movie’s theme that passion ruins everything. We see it playing a destructive role in the politics and religious battles of the day as well as people’s personal lives.

There is so much to admire about this film. First, there’s its realistic setting, at the turning point from the medieval world to the renaissance. While knights still fight battles with swords, guns occasionally come into play. Castles and carriages are there aplenty, but the realistic fights and depictions of royal life in 16th-century France don’t interfere with the emotions of the characters.

The performances are believable thanks to the direction of Bertrand Tavernier, whose only cinematic flaw is making the film a little too long.
The screenplay is based on a story by someone who knew a thing or two about the French nobility. The author, Madame de La Fayette, was a maid of honor to the Queen of France in 1650, writing several stories about the miseries of love.

“Princess of Montpensier,” is a bit of a girly movie, though there are sufficient sword fights and bloody battle scenes to keep the average man’s attention without too many elbow pokes from his companion.

This is one film you won’t want to miss.