Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Queen Margot

Written as part of the series hosted by Nathaniel R. of The Film Experience, a great website where I contribute occasionally, and which should be required reading for all film bloggers.

I don't have enough evidence to prove this, but Patrice Chéreau's La reine Margot is probably the sexiest costume drama ever made. It's certainly the sexiest one I've ever seen. At points it practically drips with eroticism. That the film is also a tremendous tragedy would only be a surprise to anyone who doesn't know French history, but as that probably applies to most Americans, it's worth mentioning, especially since the last act is really, really great at it, and with all the sex and romance on display throughout the rest of the film, it's very easy to envision a version of this story that ends with at least a little happiness.

But, this being a French historical drama about the ruling class, it was never going to have a remotely happy ending.

I found it incredibly difficult to pick a best shot, narrowing it down to four, from which one singular shot simply wouldn't emerge. I would blindly point and pick one, but that would go against the whole concept of this series, so I had to sit here staring at my screen and thinking VERY. HARD. for quite a while in order to complete the task at hand. In the end, it came down to what I think the film is about, and which shot exemplifies that best. But first, the runner-ups.

Honorable Mention
In case you're wondering, that Isabelle Adjani's Margot and her two brothers. It is heavily implied throughout the film that Margot has had relations with her brothers, and certainly in this early shot they sure do seem pretty close. But I like this shot for exemplifying how brazenly open this film is about sex and sexuality - the opening scenes are dripping with homoeroticism, incestual tension, and a decidedly female gaze. I can't think of another historical costume drama that plays that way, and it's refreshing (and somewhat depressing, since this was made way back in 1994).

Bronze Medal
Ladies and gentlemen, the great Virna Lisi. The conniving, scheming mother Catherine de Medici who sets the whole plot into motion and keeps it going right on through its tragic end. Here, as she watches her son the King die of her poison, she looks like a witch - an old crone, or perhaps even a gargoyle, looking down on everyone from the upper regions of the church. But also in the shadows, where she would prefer to stay - out of the limelight, pulling the strings for her sons to rule how she wants them to. They say "absolute power corrupts absolutely". Well, I submit this shot as evidence of its truth.

Silver Medal
The film doesn't take a huge number of stylistic risks, but it does take one pretty big symbolic one that probably shouldn't work but does, quite brilliantly. King Charles, inadvertently poisoned by his own mother's hand, sweats blood as he dies. It's a striking image, watching blood-red sweat drip down his face as he tries to get some last comfort out of Margot, and an appropriate one for the character, who spends most of the film being too nervous and unsure of himself to do what he believes is right. So here, at his most nervous, at death's door, he sweats blood. The blood of the people who died in his name, who died at his (indirect) hand, and will die in the future because of him and his failings.

This one is all about the colors and the blocking. It's not just her milky white skin against his tanned, ripped body, but the fact that they mirror the marble pillars behind them almost exactly, and what that means. They're entwined with each other, they lean on each other, but they stand independently, almost in two different worlds. He is a Protestant and she a Catholic - together they could hold up the entire kingdom of France if they wanted, but instead they're wrapped in blood (the red blanket). The blood that came before, which brought them together, and the blood to come after, which will keep them apart. True tragedy is always inevitable, and this is a lovely bit of foreshadowing.

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