Isabelle Adjani and Dominique Blanc in Queen Margot. (Cohen Media Group)
When first released in 1994, Queen Margot received it’s fair share of awards, winning the Jury Prize and Best Actress Award at Cannes, as well as five César Awards. So, given all it’s accolades, does it still hold up 20 years later?
Before this viewing, I hadn’t seen the film nor had I read the Dumas novel it’s based on, which, in retrospect may have been helpful if not only to keep up with the plot. The film takes place in 16th century France during a time when Protestants and Catholics fought for control of the country. The film opens on Margot, a catholic, getting married to a leader of the protestants–an arrangement by her family to ensure peace within the nation. I could go on explaining the situation but it would only serve to bore you, which can also be said for most of the film.
With an indulgent run time of almost 3 hours, Margot does it’s best to cram as much information as possible into each scene, whether it’s dates, places, or titles of important figures in French history. I’m sure, as is the problem with most adaptations, that there simply wasn’t enough space in the film to translate all the information from the book. It is a dense viewing that would require at least a shorthand knowledge of French history for most to fully appreciate.
Since its based on historical figures, there are no characters with which the audience can connect. Characters and their relationship dynamics are forced in order to move the plot along, and, as a result feel flat and unconvincing. This is most apparent in the central love affair concerning the film’s titular character.
On a technical level, the film succeeds in many ways; it’s beautifully shot and edited with a wild, frenetic energy during the set-pieces. The costumes and makeup are also incredible when taken into consideration the scale of the production (One scene in particular comes to mind, in which troops of peasants collect and dump hundreds of corpses into a mass grave after a surprise massacre).
Though it’s technical achievements are great, this does not forgive its other glaring faults, which are largely a slow moving script and melodramatic performances. Any good film has a central point; a meaning, or message behind it. Something to make you feel that this whole experience wasn’t empty. They have drama, and tension, and make keep you curious for the next scene. Margot has none of that, trading drama for theatrics, tension for aesthetics.
Even now, after finishing the film, I ask myself whether it was more about politics, or more about passion? At it’s core the film revolves around love affairs and political ploys, though I’m not sure about which was more important, or even why. Things merely happened, and I accepted it, waiting for the end rather than the next scene.
Most films aim to tell a story, or an emotional journey. This one doesn’t. Instead, it aims to recreate a moment; a version of reality which is so visually accurate that you might argue with yourself that, “you know, that is what a French king would wear in the 1600s!” and, in the end, it felt more akin to a history lesson than a movie experience.
All of this is not to say that it is a “bad film” or without merit, but rather it’s particular to a certain niche demographic. However, unless you are French, you greatly enjoy history, or appreciate elaborate period pieces, Margot probably isn’t for you.
Cohen Media Group
Opens Friday, May 16 at the Laemmle Music Hall
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