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  D'Artagnan's Daughter la femme musketeerBuy this film here.
Year: 1994
Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Stars: Sophie Marceau, Philippe Noiret, Claude Rich, Sami Frey, Jean-Luc Bideau, Raoul Billery, Charlotte Kady, Nils Tavernier, Gigi Proietti, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Pascal Roberts
Genre: Comedy, Action, Historical
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: In 1654, Eloise (Sophie Marceau), daughter of the legendary musketeer D’Artagnan (Philippe Noiret) lives in a convent in Southern France. One night, a runaway African slave stumbles inside the nunnery, pursued by a band of villainous horsemen led by the scarlet-clad Eglantine de Rochefort (Charlotte Kady). In the ensuing fracas, the nuns are abused and Eloise’s beloved Mother Superior (Pascal Roberts) is killed. Discovering a coded letter, Eloise suspects a conspiracy is afoot and immediately dons uniform and sword to track down her father and his ever-faithful manservant Planchett (Jean-Paul Roussillon).

The aged D’Artagnan has grown disenchanted with the court of boy king Louis XIV and his scheming minister, Cardinal Mazarin (Gigi Proietti), but rounds up his compatriots Porthos (Raoul Billery) and Aramis (Sami Frey), although Athos has long-since disappeared, presumed dead. Shadowed by a mysterious one-eyed spy (Jean-Luc Bideau) and plagued by rheumatism and haemorrhoids, the old swashbucklers must recover their wits if they are to foil an assassination and cope with one very bossy and headstrong young lady.

D’Artagnan’s Daughter was originally meant to mark a comeback for cult Italian director Riccardo Freda. While English speaking fans think of Freda as one of the forefathers of Italian horror, with I Vampiri (1956), The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock (1962), The Witch’s Curse (1964) and others to his credit, in Europe his reputation rests with the dozens of glossy, fast-moving swashbucklers he produced prolifically throughout the Fifties and Sixties. Although Freda devised the story, for whatever reasons - most likely, ill health - he was unable to direct and so his onetime assistant director Bertrand Tavernier stepped in.

Tavernier is of course a master filmmaker in his own right, although his background in art-house dramas (Deathwatch (1980)) and acerbic thrillers (Le juge et le assassin (1976), Coup de Torchon (1981)) means he lacks the necessary lightness of touch to make the action fizzle. One notable problem lies with the depiction of the titular heroine. Eloise is portrayed with great gusto by the wonderful Sophie Marceau, yet aside from a handful of faltering battles, is all-too often slapped aside, or dismissed as impetuous and foolhardy. Ten years later, a similarly themed, if inferior Hallmark mini-series starring Michael York and Suzy Amy had no qualms about its heroine crossing swords with the boys. Here it is as if Tavernier can’t convince himself, let alone the audience, this is any job for a woman and consequently reduces feisty Eloise to a damsel in distress, bailed out by papa.

At least the father-daughter is warmly handled. After a poignant scene where D’Artagnan mistakes Eloise for lost love Constance, consummate actors Marceau and Noiret keep their banter wry and engaging. Indeed, if Tavernier seems ill at ease with the material, his performers attack their roles with relish: Roussillon a pleasingly befuddled Planchett, Billery a Porthos for whom age has diminished neither his fiery temper or appetite (he is lured back into the fold by some delicious pate), Frey’s Aramis now a bishop (although this has not curbed his womanising), and an amusing (if in retrospect, confusing) twist involving Bideau’s one-eyed secret agent, whose eye-patch keeps switching from left to right. As the villainous Duc du Crassac, Claude Rich was actually nominated for a Cesar, even though he plays a stressed-out, nervous bundle of energy, more clown than threat. He provides an endearing gag wherein he continually fails to master a fencing move called “the Cazuhac twist”, which - as everyone keeps telling him, “only works if you have the sun behind you.” Charlotte Kady makes for a suitably sensual villainess, a former convent girl herself who relishes selling the nuns into sexual slavery.

Beautifully photographed by Patrick Blossier in autumnal colours that evoke the period, the film starts well but grows tired, as if afflicted by the wistful melancholy of its aging heroes. The sword-fighting action is well-choreographed, with some great stunts including Eloise riding a horse through a banquet hall and the musketeers assault upon a slave ship, but Tavernier’s atypically lacklustre framing robs them of their energy. By compensation, the filmmaker peppers the script with historical gags and in-jokes, such as one characters desire to open a chain of coffee houses, references to the Edict of Nantes and Louis XIV’s famous regarding the state, plus a wry satire of French politics with Mazarin counselling the boy king how to play his European neighbours against each other. As if to underline this is essentially a lark, the characters take a curtain call over the end credits, although watching Sophie Marceau and co-stars perform the musketeer salute raises a smile.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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