Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - The Renaissance

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us on our journey by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

This week, ladies and gentlemen, we are going back in time. Back in the centuries to a time of magical scientific discoveries, a time of great wealth and horrible poverty, a time of exploration, war, and enlightenment: The Renaissance. I myself am a big fan of renaissance faires (I even dress up on occasion), but people often seem to widen the historical definition of the period a bit to include their favorite costumes or other "middle ages" ephemera. For the purposes of this week, we're using the historically-defined period of the 14th-17th centuries.

Queen Margot (Patrice Chéreau, 1994) Putting the lie to the idea that period films must be stately, buttoned-up, over-serious slogs of costume pageantry, Queen Margot is deliciously dirty and sexy. Isabelle Adjani plays the title role, a Catholic sister of King Charles who is forced to marry another prominent Catholic in order to consolidate power and suppress the uprising of the Protestant Huguenots. But after the bloody St. Barttholomew's Day Massacre, she falls in love with the Protestant La Môle, which may undo everything the neurotic King and his scheming mother Catherine de Medici (a brilliant Virna Lisi) have done. Queen Margot may be close to three hours long, but it doesn't feel it at all, moving along at an involving pace with brilliant performances and some stunning design and cinematography (which I wrote about here, if you're interested).

Dangerous Beauty (Marshall Herskovitz, 1998) Meet Veronica Franco, a beautiful, smart, young Venetian woman. She has everything one needs to get everything one wants in the world... except she's too low-born to marry the man she loves. So her mother suggests that she go into the "family business" and become a courtesan. Upon learning that doing so would grant her access to libraries and education in addition to all the men she could ever dream of sleeping with, she decides to do it. She eventually becomes the top courtesan in Venice, called upon to use her body as well as her mind to influence foreign heads of state... until the Inquisition tries her for witchcraft. This isn't a truly great film, but it's very interesting, looking at the world's oldest profession in a very different light than most other films. And it's based on a biography of Veronica Franco, so much of it is true!

The New World (Terence Malick, 2005) The familiar story of the fateful settling/exploration voyage to America led by John Smith and John Rolfe, where they meet a native chief's daughter, Pocahontas. But this telling is unlike any other you've seen - as you may have guessed upon seeing Malick's name as the director. And look: This is a long, slow, indulgent movie. I'm not going to deny it. However, it is also an unbelievably gorgeous one, possibly the most beautiful looking (and sounding) movie Malick has ever made, in a career not at all lacking in beautiful movies. Appropriately for a movie titled The New World, at times it really feels like you're seeing our planet for the first time, and good God is it a sight to behold.

14 comments:

  1. I been meaning to see The New World for ages but that well-known Malick tendency towards slowness has kept me at bay despite it starring Colin Farrell who I'm a big fan of. I really must make a point of it soon.

    Dangerous Beauty is a great catch. As you said it's not a truly "great" movie but a highly entertaining one with excellent performances, I was especially fond of Jacqueline Bissett's knowing work as Veronica's mother, and it has a gorgeous look.

    WE MATCH!!! Don't know why but I didn't expect to this week. Queen Margot is a dark journey but a compelling one. As customarily great as Isabelle Adjani is it's Virna Lisi who lingers in memory, the first time I watched it I had the hardest time equating the gorgon on the screen with the ravishing creature of How to Murder Your Wife and Not With My Wife, You Don't!

    The New World caught me by surprise because I never think of the Renaissance happening anywhere but Europe which is where all mine are set.

    The Advocate aka The Hour of the Pig (1993)-Richard Courtois (Colin Firth) a lawyer in 15th century France tired of the chicanery and lawlessness of Paris moves to the small rural town Abbeville along with his clerk Mathieu (Jim Carter) when he’s offered a job as a public defender. This being a period when animals were held accountable for crimes with the same punishments handed out to humans he soon finds himself defending a pig accused of murdering a Jewish boy. Pitted against a determined prosecutor (Donald Pleasance) and Catholic priest (Ian Holm), Richard defends the animal and becomes enamored of its owner, beautiful gypsy Samira (Amina Annabi). Along the way he finds out about the strange goings on behind the doors of the seemingly tame townspeople. The medieval justice system and local superstitions mingle as the case plays out. A strange and quirky film this is based on the journal of an actual barrister of the period.

    Queen Margot (1994)-Dark and dire tale of the 16th century religious battle between the Catholics and the Huguenots for control of France. King Charles IX and his mother the dower queen Catherine de ’Medici (a simply sensational and scary Virna Lisi as a merciless woman whose soul has turned to dust) offer the Princess Margot (Isabelle Adjani-brilliant) to the Protestant King of Navarre in marriage as a political pawn. Trapped and unhappy Margot soon starts an affair with a soldier (Vincent Perez) as her mother orchestrates the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of thousands of Huguenots as well as murderous intrigues to place her other son on the Navarre throne. Blood splattered revenges and double crosses follow.

    Quentin Durward (1955)-Plush version of Sir Walter Scott’s tale of a Scottish knight, the Quentin of the title (Robert Taylor) sent to France by his cash strapped uncle to propose to a wealthy and titled lady, the fair Isabelle (Kay Kendall) who is at the moment at the castle of King Louis XI (the amusing Robert Morley-owner of the stupidest looking crown in any movie ever). Once arrived there is intrigue aplenty with attacks and sword fights including one where the protagonists dangle from bell tower ropes inside a burning church. Entertaining derring-do was one of the few leads that the luminous Kay Kendall had before leukemia claimed her at 33.

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    1. I can't believe I've never heard of The Hour of the Pig! That sounds just lovely - great cast, interesting plot - I MUST seek it out!

      Yeah, Queen Margot is quite something. I ADORE Adjani in pretty much everything, but you're absolutely right that Virna Lisi just scratches her way into your brain and stays there. A truly harrowing portrait of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

      I'll say this about The New World: It is STUNNINGLY beautiful. Like, so much so that I recommend it to people that probably won't like it all that much just because it's so fucking PRETTY to look at. It IS very Malick-ian, but the beauty on display really does mitigate that a LOT.

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  2. I picked the animated Pocahontas lol. The New World is the least annoying Malick movie for me, I just can't get into his work.

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    1. I don't blame you - Malick isn't the easiest filmmaker to get into. I'm a great admirer of his, but even I find some of his stuff insufferable.

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  3. I've only seen The New World. Sigh...long, slow, indulgent, and all-out terrible. F'in Malick.

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    1. LOL

      SEE QUEEN MARGOT! It's amazing!

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  4. I have mixed feelings about The New World. It was so long and tedious but at the same time it was really interesting. And visually, it was spectacular.

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    1. Yeah, I feel the same way. The beauty of it all was usually enough to get me to forgive the tediousness of most of it.

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  5. Haven't seen any of your picks. Queen Margot sounds quite interesting though

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    1. Queen Margot is GREAT. Definitely worth a watch.

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  6. I have to seen any of these films but want to see all of them. I heard that Lisa was xcellent in the first film and never heard of the second but want to see it. New World seems to be popular today

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    1. I had never heard of Dangerous Beauty myself until a year and a half ago, when my ex mentioned it. He's NOT a movie person, but he remembered that one, so I sought it out and was pleasantly surprised.

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  7. I hadn't heard of these before, except for The New World, which I really want to see. What a nice list, will try to watch these some day!

    -Mette

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  8. I've recently read a book about Margaret of Valois and it was all just so fascinating. And while I know the Game of Thrones red wedding was based on other real life events, I can't help but be reminded of it when I read about the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Anyway I haven't seen Queen Margot, but it's definitely something I want to see.

    Dangerous Beauty - I agree it isn't great...but like you said, an interesting story.

    The New World - I really don't mind the slowness...and I agree it's a gorgeous movie.

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