The Princess of Montpensier offers an unusual, refreshing blend of romanticism and realism. The classic French novella is brought to the screen by veteran director Bertrand Tavernier and his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Bruno de Keyzer, BSC.
PART 1: THE STORY
The Princess of Montpensier takes place in the sixteenth century during the French Wars of Religion. It begins as the learned, chilvarous count of Chabannes (played by Lambert Wilson) deserts the Protestant army after being shocked by his own violence. The count is taken in under the protection of his friend the prince of Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet).
The prince is quickly wedded to Marie (Mélanie Thierry), a teenage heiress, in a marriage arranged by their fathers as a business transaction. As she struggles to assume the bearing of her new rank, the young princess is torn by a sense of duty to her shy, awkward husband, and her lingering crush for the handsome, arrogant duke of Guise (Gaspard Ulliel).
When the prince is called to war, he leaves his bride with the count, asking him to help educate Marie to prepare her for a life at court. Despite himself, the older count falls in love with his student, blurts out his feelings only to be put back in his place by the princess.
The film plays skillfully between the three men who love Marie, adding a fourth suitor, the powerful Duke of Anjou, who does not hide his infatuation. As the story progresses, Marie matures and Princess ends with our heroine recognizing the nature of true love.
Tavernier presents the realities of Renaissance France in a stark light, as when Marie is treated like chattel on her wedding night, standing naked as the families look on, or when disorganized soldiers fight a chaotic battle, or courtiers show their cynicism during a costume ball. Yet despite its unsentimental settings, Princess is above all a film about love: principally the unrequited love of the elder Chabannes for the young Marie, but also the lack of communication between husband and wife, and the princess' impulsive passion for the dashing duke of Guise.
At its best, The Princess of Montpensier succeeds in presenting a romantic story in a modern, realistic style that breathes new life to the period piece romance genre. In the next posts I will focus on 3 scenes and speak to the cinematographer and director to see how this style was accomplished.
Manohla Dargis' review for the New York Times
the misleading trailer
The Princess of Montpensier by Madame de Lafayette
IFC Films Princess page
PART 2: The cinematographer, Bruno de Keyzer, BSC
PART 3:The director Bertrand Tavernier