THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER – Les yawns, les sighs

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER – now at the Clay in San Francisco and Elmwood in Berkeley is a near-miss on just about every level. The film is loosely based on an undistinguished fictional novelette – a thinly-veiled “tell-all” published anonymously in 1662. Everyone knew it was penned by “Madame de la Fayette”. It flopped anyway. The 2010 screenplay adaptation is likewise as tepid, even though pumped with a little skin and pushed through the familiar lens of depicting a pretty girl in voluminous skirts and an exposed bosom before 3:00, surrounded by several-too-many snarly suitors, against the backdrop of a civil war. Place and time – somewhere in France, during the late 1500s. It’s The French Wars of Religion – the Catholics vs. the Protestants. Neither Mme de la Fayette nor the film’s director, Bertrand Tavernier, chose to deal with the gritty whys and wherefores concerning the conflict, save a mention of the sale of Indulgences (one-way tickets into Paradise) by the Catholics and the policy’s resistance and name-calling by the stiff-necked Huguenots. Following the money trail – it means that everyone’s personal fortunes, including those of the Montpensiers, were either at risk or burning at the stake. Hence, the film contains lots of warning, scorning and spurning – of the disparaging / disrespecting and off-with-your-head variety – followed by much hotheaded flourishing of swords and daggers, and any number of muddy skirmishes complete with eviscerations and beheadings, and you can’t tell a true papist from an altruistic rebel. “Passion destroys everything!” cries the promotional tag-line. For sure.

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RAPHAËL PERSONNAZ as Duc d’Anjou – GASPARD ULLIEL as Henri de Guise
Photos, Etienne George

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MÉLANIE THIERRY (Marie de Montpensier) and
LAMBERT WILSON (Comte de Chabannes)

One performance stands out – Lambert Wilson as the Princess Marie’s middle-aged tutor, the “Comte de Chabannes”. Wilson is a handsome and gifted actor, seen previously in Of Gods and Men. As the wisdom-figure, Chabannes is a former soldier who has rejected all war and violence. Wilson is completely compelling in his portrayal of suppressed desire and ultimate sacrifice. We ache for Chabannes as he confesses his love to Marie. Even though he’s seasoned and sexy enough to be Cary Grant in “North by Northwest” – alas, the naïve Princess has her adulterous eye on the oily “Henri de Guise” (Gaspard Ulliel) who will one day totally reject her and become the boy-toy of an older, yes, but much more solvent pair of heels. The Princess of Montpensier really is a foolish character. She’s a forgettable figure – in history, 16th Century pulp fiction, and as a subject for the international cinema.
139 minutes. French with English subtitles.

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Grégoire Leprince Ringuet (Montpensier), Mélanie Thierry, and Lambert Wilson

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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