Oh to be a royal in 16th century France. Or perhaps not. At least not a woman, traded as property in marriage at the behest of your father or brother. That’s the fate suffered by Marie, the titular Princess de Montpensier in Bertrand Tavernier’s The Princess of Montpensier.
A project even Catherine Breillat would be proud of, the French director’s film is based on a short story which has been greatly expanded to display the tumultuous love life of a woman of noble birth. In love with her cousin Henri, Marie is promised and married off to the Prince de Montpensier, a handsome young chap who we will later come to loathe as a jealous, wimp of a man. Marie is determined to wipe her true love from her mind and do her father proud in her marriage but as soon as she sees Henri again, her heart deceives her and she embroils herself in a doomed romance which leaves her estranged from her husband and her only friend, the trustworthy Comte de Chabannes (who also falls in love with the young woman), a friend of the Prince and Marie’s tutor.
As to the Breillat comparison, it stems from the fact that Marie is, at all costs, true to herself and her wants regardless of the cost. Though she, more often than not, comes across as a spoiled, selfish girl, I couldn’t help but feel some remorse for her and even a bit of awe that she is willing to throw away her comfortable life in the pursuit of true love.
Beautifully designed and captured (from the scenery to the costuming), Tavernier’s film features a cast that ranges from excellent to mediocre. The weakest link is Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet as Montpensier who is mostly flat and whose jealous rages are sometimes comical – thankfully he is used sparingly. The rest of the cast, notably Mélanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Gaspard Ulliel and Raphaël Personnaz, play their roles wonderfully, more than making up for the missteps.
Though a little long winded, The Princess of Montpensier is an enjoyable tale of a woman who will do anything for true love and though some audiences will be turned off by the long list of unlikeable characters, others will appreciate the fact that Tavernier and his team of writers don’t let any characters off easy. Happy endings? Don’t expect to see any here.
See VIFF screening schedule for show times.