Angélique and the Sultan

Angélique and the SultanThe last installment of the Angélique saga is one of the better ones — good news for anyone diving into the entire five-film series. Set mainly in Morocco, where the abducted Angélique (Michèle Mercier) seems doomed to live as an unwilling member of the Sultan’s harem, the film once again relegates once-proud Angélique to the status of damsel-in-distress, but at least there are interesting goings-on elsewhere, as her husband Joffrey de Peyrac (Robert Hossein) — better known these days as the dread pirate Rescatore — leaves a trail of blood behind him as he struggles to discover her whereabouts. There’s some solid pirate action, a daring prison break, and a nighttime escape from the Sultan’s castle, and if Angélique’s has been somewhat subdued, at least she’s still spirited. Much is made of religious conflict, with Angélique refusing to renounce her faith to satisfy her captors, and earning the allegiance of a strapping blond Christian that the Sultan never quite decides to execute. The standout character this time around is Osman Ferradji (Jean-Claude Pascal), the Moroccan king’s right-hand man who is tasked, finally and unsuccessfully, with the taming of Angélique. Unsatisfying as the end of an epic, but a decent enough adventure yarn in its own right.

Untamable Angélique

An Angélique pirate movie sounds like great, trashy fun, but Untamable Angélique is nowhere near as imaginative as Angélique and the King, and given Angelique’s status in earlier films as a beautiful, strong-willed female it’s dispiriting to see her thrown to the wolves in this fourth installment of the five-film series. The title is translated from the French Indomptable Angélique, partly because “indomitable” is roughly as unfamiliar to U.S. audiences as, well, “Synecdoche,” but also because “untamable” suggests an altogether more torrid affair. Indeed, this is arguably the raciest film in the series — not only does star Michèle Mercier offer more peek-a-boo nudity, but this film’s events are almost completely outside the control of poor Angélique, who is captured and raped by pirates, tortured by a pack of angry strays, stripped naked for sale at a slave auction, and eventually abducted again. Not only is Angélique a frustratingly passive character, but the film ends on an abrupt cliffhanger that promises more misery to come. By far the shortest Angélique film, Untamable Angélique is sufficiently energetic and compulsively watchable — the sea-faring scenes, including some ship-to-ship combat, are intriguing enough — but it’s odd to see how abruptly this popular series exhausted its emotional capital.

Angélique and the King

Angelique and the KingAngélique (Michèle Mercier) roars back to life in this lively third installment in the five-film series, which sees her becoming a crucial instrument in the affairs of Louis XIV, and thus the subject of much palace intrigue. When Angelique accepts a diplomatic assignment to the Persian ambassador Bachtiary-Bey (Sami Frey), she’s rewarded with Peyrac’s estate — now she has two manors — but ends up as a kind of political prisoner, the captive of Bachtiary-Bey, who intends to rape and perhaps murder her. Rescued in the nick of time (by a Hungarian prince!), she returns to the king’s court, where she’s regarded with dismay by the king’s wife and actively scorned by the king’s current mistress, who senses impending obsolescence. The second half of the film is the most brashly inventive part of the series so far, including one recurring character’s death, another’s return from the grave, multiple attempts on Angélique’s life, and even a black mass.

Continue reading

Wonderful Angélique

Merveilleuse Angelique.jpgThis is a real comedown after the first film in the series, which ended with Angelique de Peyrac enduring an abrupt fall from grace and apparently aligning herself with the Parisian underworld, bent on vengeance. Wonderful Angélique, however, turns out to be a much more straightforward romantic melodrama, showing Angelique as a status-driven career woman and serial monogamist who pulls herself out of poverty as an entrepreneurial restaurateur and hitches herself to royalty by marrying her cousin, Philippe de Plessis-Bellieres (Claude Giraud). She starts the film in thrall to her old sweetheart Nicolas (Giuliano Gemma), eventually falls for the anti-authoritatarian provocateur known as the “dirty poet” (Jean-Louis Trintignant) — the kind of charming rogue who introduces himself by groping your breasts while you sleep — and finally settles for Philippe. There’s a callback to the assassination plot from the first film, but the storyline feels much more middle-of-the-road-historical-romance this time around and the sense of rollicking, slightly bawdy fun has been diminished. Angélique’s wardrobe is still an enticingly fabulous manifestation of costume drama and the whole thing is lovely to look at but somehow the woman herself seems to have lost a stake in the story as appealingly fierce edge of Michéle Mercier’s performance has been dulled. A disappointment.

Angélique, Marquise of the Angels


AngeliqueWhile the standard-bearers of the nouvelle vague were off making stuff like The Soft Skin, Contempt, and Muriel, le cinema du papa was cranking right along with this historical potboiler, a romance about the lavish and dangerous love shared between Angélique (Michèle Mercier), the daughter of a poor nobleman living in the French countryside, and Joffrey de Peyrac (Robert Hossein), a wealthy count with a reputation for deviltry who essentially buys her hand in marriage. Peyrac takes Angelique away from the common people she loves — and from Nicolas (Giuliano Gemma), the strapping young fieldhand who first took her fancy — but wins her over by declining to force himself on her. Instead, the cold, cold cockles of her heart are thawed when the limping, scarred Peyrac manages to perforate the chest of a rival in a swordfight. By contemporary standards, this is hilarious stuff — yet somehow it’s still stirring, swooning through its melodramatic paces with the speed and slippery, unstoppable heft of the proverbial greased pig. Think of a Francophone cross between Gone With the Wind and Barbarella.

Continue reading

Let the Right One In


Set in a neighborhood outside Stockholm, largely in and around a nondescript apartment complex, Let the Right One In is, first, a coming-of-age tale about Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a slight, pale boy with a shock of blond hair and good humor that belies his general beat-down wariness and barely contained anger. He’s the target of menacing schoolyard bullies and, as the film begins, we see him practicing with a knife, imagining that he’s jabbing it into the flesh of one of his tormenters. Oskar has a new neighbor, the similarly tiny and wary Eli (Lina Leandersson), who has moved into the flat next door with Hakan (Per Ragnar), an older man who seems to be her father. Hakan covers the windows with cardboard — perhaps to block out the sunlight. At one point, we hear Eli snarling, “You’re supposed to help me!” Horror-movie fans will no doubt suspect something sinister is going on, and they will be correct. Let the Right One In is certainly a horror movie, and it brings the pain in genre fashion. But it’s also a kind of Scandinavian gothic — a love story between 12-year-olds, one of whom has been 12 for a very long time.

Continue reading

Om Shanti Om


In some ways, the defining characteristic of Om Shanti Om is that it is not Saawariya, the competing musical that it opened against around the world last November. For one thing — and most obviously — Om Shanti Om is clearly a product of the existing Bollywood industry, featuring repeated and loving tributes to old-school Indian cinema. Saawariya, on the other hand, was widely perceived as the work of carpetbaggers — although it was directed by native son Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who made the hugely expensive hit Devdas in 2002, it was financed by Sony Pictures Entertainment, a Hollywood studio.

Continue reading



Yes, the first half of WALL•E is as good as everyone says it is. It’s essentially a silent comedy, built out of scrap metal, consumer cast-offs, and a forbidding end-of-the-world landscape — New York City as a far-future archeological dig. Our hero is a plucky bucket of bolts who sees through binocular eyes and burbles like R2D2 as he makes orderly piles out of the refuse left by the erstwhile Earthlings who fled their ruined planet hundreds of years before for the machine-assisted comforts of a distant space station. Their absence is what makes WALL•E’s Manhattan so charming — the irony is that these miserable, junk-strewn environs are attractive to the old-school WALL•E, who busies himself by collecting and categorizing — a Rubik’s Cube here, a light bulb there — the detritus of civilization. It’s not until EVE, a sleek, iPod-styled girl robot shows up on the scene that WALL•E becomes aware of his own loneliness.

Continue reading