Saturday 25 May 2024

French Film Festival + The Current Cinema - Janice Tong's 🎥 Filmic Postcard loves THE THREE MUSKETEERS PT 1 & PT 2, (Martin Bourboulon, France 2023)

Les Trois Mousquetaires : D’artagnan | The Three Musketeers Part I: D'artagnan (2023) France | Germany | Spain | Belgium, 

Les Trois Mousquetaires : Milady The Three Musketeers Part II: Milady (2023) France | Germany | Spain | Belgium, 


 Mélanie Thierry (R) and Marina Foïs (L) in Party of Fools

I have always looked forward to the French Film Festival, having attended this festival religiously over the past 25 years and I have developed somewhat high expectations. Some big names this year too, such as Catherine BreillatLast Summer (2023) with Léa DruckerArnaud des Pallières, Party of Fools (2023) with Mélanie Thierry and Marina FoïsStéphane Brizé, Out of Season (2023) with Guillaume Canet and Alba Rohrwacher, and Joachim LafosseA Silence (2023) with Daniel Auteuil and Emmanuelle Devos, to name but a few. But for whatever reason, these perfectly-made films fell short of stealing my heart, however they tugged or unwittingly I wished to be led. 

Out of Season

Perhaps with one exception, Sidonie in Japan (2023) by director Élise Girard. I am only newly acquainted with Girard during Covid lock-down but have come to love all the films I’ve seen of hers; and this one, I’m pleased to report, has the same whimsical quality as her other films did. Isabelle Huppert was in fine form, though it was the German actor, August Diehl, as her husband’s ghostly apparition, who made the film – and made me want to immediately re-watch Malick’s A Hidden Life (2019) upon exiting the cinema. 

Sidonie in Japan: does this shot remind you of another?


So, I must admit that I was completely taken by surprise when the very gesture of captivation I was seeking, came from not one, but two blockbusters, Martin Bourboulon’s two-part epic, The Three Musketeers: D’artagnan and Milady


From the very opening sequences, D'artagnan had me in a state of swoon. I was completely swept away by the movement, costumes, drama, its larger than life characters (yes, including the silly, naive and hang-dog look of François Civil’s D’artagnan, his lank hair and grubby face notwithstanding), and charmed by its engaging though predictable storyline, but most of all, I found myself carried away by the spirit of this brotherhood of musketeers – their motto ‘one for all and all for one; united we stand and divided we fall’ stirred up something in me that was fiery and passionate. It was so easy to fall in love with Alexandre Dumas’ tale from 1844, the distance of time did nothing to dull its grandeur, it was as if these characters were real, and their plight and fight were unfolding in front of my eyes at that very moment in the darkened cinema.


From there, a collection of cinematographic fragments filled the screen: the first view of a white stallion graced the rolling hills; then later, a dappled grey mare, all muscles and veins in another scene; the way sunlight streams into the palace interiors in the films’ extraordinary mise en scène; or that particular shade of crimson of Cardinal de Richelieu’s cloak; the way Louis Garrel (as King Louis XIII) wore his attire – handsome in a rock ‘n’ roll kinda way; the ambivalent sexual orientation of Porthos (Pio Marmaï); to the kohl-lined eyes and stubbled cheeks of Romain Duris (Aramis) sporting a hat full of feathers that, unlike the straighter long feathers of his fellow musketeers, his resembled those of a cockerel’s tail with a bright orange plume and lower down a flash of ultramarine blue; and at last, to my favourite vignette, that of Vincent Cassel’s (Athos) long locks, whether tied back in a knot, or hung about his face, wavy and loosely dishevelled – his hair gave him an air of solemnity and aristocracy. I love that Cassel likes to associate his characters with an animal; and for him, Athos is an old wolf, full of battle scars, timeworn and rugged, his mind and body bares the weight of his tormented past, and as he’s older than his fellow musketeers; he draws on this experience in combat, rather than rely on performance alone. These kinds of subtleties put our actors into the pantheon of Frenchman with their long history of sensuality: that men can be as rugged as they come, but be incredibly sensual at the same time; just like Alain Delon before them. 


Vincent Cassel

Some trivia: Cassel’s father, Jean-Pierre, brought Vincent along to Richard Lester’s shoot of The Three Musketeers back in 1973, in which he played Louis XIII. Notable actors of their generation, Michael YorkOliver Reed, as well the scale of production left a mark on the little boy. (Jean-Pierre Cassel also played D’Artagnan in Abel Gance’s rather silly comedy Cyrano and D’Artagnan (1964)). I counted no less than 32 feature film adaptations of this narrative since 1903, and this is not including any animated films. The last directed in France was shot in 2005, and before that 1961, so Martin Bourboulon’s version seems long overdue. 


The esprit of the musketeers is so entrenched into our psyche that they are cited as part of our everyday folklore; they appear to us not only in physical locations like their ‘hideout’ on rue de Nevers in Paris; but also ubiquitous in stories about brotherhood. One of my favourite British crime drama series, Endeavour, in Season 2 Episode 4, Neverland, (2014) had characters sporting the tattoo ‘A41’, signifying the motto ‘All for one’. In another television show, a very fine German/Danish co-production, Tod von Freunden | Beneath the Surface (2021) a direct reference to the musketeer’s brotherhood of ‘All for one, and one for all’ amongst a tight-knit group of childhood friends.


Even if you are not familiar with the history of the musketeers, who were in fact, a military branch of the Maison du Roi; Dumas’ story is universal – loyalty, brotherhood, love, religion, rebellion, vengeance, deceit, politics, allegiance, righting wrongs, codes of honour. I won’t spoil all the plot twists to retell any details here, except to say that Bourboulon did not remain entirely faithful to the book as he took on liberties to graft a number of historically accurate incidents into the plotline.


Just like the glorious epic of Shōgun (2024), the ten-part television mini-series that is currently showing on Disney+, the director and producers have taken great care in bringing authenticity to the screen; and for the Musketeers this included the way a mount is ridden, for example, Cassel in an interview said “Athos is a true noble. He has to sit in his saddle accordingly, hands low.” Whilst it’s ok to flirt with the code of a western in the beautiful costuming by Thierry Delettre; but to take care to not cross the line, (remember the details of the feathers, or the decision to dress Athos in dark colours which included a scarf to give the appearance of hair on his chest, a hint of sexiness on this old grey wolf). The production design by Stéphane Taillasson won the 2024 César Award for his category. In fact, no budget was spared; Musketeers reputedly cost €72M to make, whilst Shōgunballooned out to $250M USD. 


The crimson cloak, sunlight and incredible production design

But I think The Three Musketeers (and Shōgun’s) relatability hinges on the very fine-casting of its characters and the impeccable casting of the film’s female heroines: the female characters are more complexly drawn, and in this way, they were able to bring about an ebb and flow to the swashbuckling rhythms of their counterparts. Eva Green as the multifaceted tragic heroine Milady de Winter provided just the right amount of darkness and intrigue to the innocent and good-hearted Constance BonacieuxD’artagnan’s love-interest, played by the fresh-faced Lyna Khoudri (Khoudri has already a wonderful repertoire of heroines to draw from, Papicha (2019), Haute Couture(2021) and Secret Name (2021)); and finally, the inimitable Vicky Krieps as Queen Anne d'Autriche, who on the surface is stoic and stately, but secretly in love with the Duke of Buckingham and willing to risk her own livelihood because of this love. What I found most touching in all of this, is the musketeers’ sensibilities; their instinct to withdraw after saving their Queen in order to give her the privacy needed with her lover; and they did this without it being a betrayal to the King, whom they are loyal subjects to; that everyone, even the Queen is entitled to their intimacies and private life. 


Beautiful and captivating Eva Green as Milady de Winter: villainess or l’amour?

The Alliance Française French Film Festival was shown in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart and Perth in March to April this year. The Three Musketeers films are now playing commercial seasons at Palace cinemas around Australia.

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