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  Bossu, Le En Garde!
Year: 1997
Director: Philippe de Broca
Stars: Daniel Auteuil, Fabrice Luchini, Vincent Perez, Marie Gillain, Yann Collette, Jean-François Stévenin, Didier Pain, Claire Nebout, Philippe Noiret, Charlie Nelson, Jacques Sereys, Renato Scarpa, Ludovica Tinghi, James Thiérrée
Genre: Historical, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Lagardère (Daniel Auteuil), an orphan who grew up to be a skilled swordsman, is practicing at the school of fencing which he attends when a local nobleman, Philippe de Nevers (Vincent Perez) arrives asking for a duel to show off his abilities. Lagardère obliges, and acrobatic combat follows in which it looks as if he is the better swordsman until the Duc presents his own ingenious and potentially deadly move that sees his opponent disarmed. Because of this encounter an unlikely friendship develops between the two men, which strengthens when Nevers discovers from a letter intercepted and delivered by Lagardère that he now has an heir to his title and fortune - something which his cousin Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini) is very unhappy about...

This was one of many versions of Paul Féval's historical swashbuckler, but emerged as one of the best (although there are those who still prefer the 1960 one with Jean Marais). This was thanks to a lightness of touch displayed not only by director and writer (along with Jean Cosmos and Jerome Tonnerre) Philippe de Broca, who was not without experience in the genre, but also the willing cast who fill their roles with aplomb, from the despicable villains to the admirable heroes. Taking the centre of attention but not overshadowing his co-stars, Auteuil makes the very most of his opportunities, as reliably great as ever, if a little too old for the part.

Gonzague would have inherited Nevers' estate and been able to follow his dream of capitalising on the new lands of America which are up for grabs had there not been a new heir, so he swiftly begins his scheming to have things going his way. Perez, as the charismatic but rather obtuse Duc, and Auteuil make a fine team and it is Lagardère Nevers chooses to accompany him as bodyguard to the castle of his baby's mother, Blanche (Claire Nebout) and her nobleman father so that the Duc may marry her. However, Gonzague sets his own men after them, leading to an encounter on a precariously placed bridge.

While the Duc reaches his destination safely, his new friend is delayed due to unfortunately falling into the ravine and the river below - but not before waylaying the pursuers. However, there may be a sense of fun in many scenes, but tragedy is just as deeply felt as the blackguards catch up with Nevers and slaughter everyone in the castle except for him, the baby and Blanche. Nevers fights bravely, but Gonzague creeps up behind him and fatally wounds his cousin; Lagardère arrives just too late to save him, but not the baby and as Nevers dies in his arms, he vows to avenge him if it takes one, ten, or twenty years.

Which is just as well because there's quite a jump forward in time. Lagardère brings up the baby - initially thought to be a boy but actually a girl - himself and hides out in a group of travelling players for nearly twenty years until the girl, called Aurore (Marie Gillain), is a teenager. They have a slightly dodgy relationship in that they both have grown to love each other less as surrogate father and daughter and more as a romantic couple, but Lagardère doesn't want to see this develop. Then there comes the chance for him to secure his revenge on Gonzague, in the world's worst disguise as it turns out: a hunchback with a large, fake nose. How nobody recognises him is beyond me. There may be too long between sword fights, but Auteuil and his co-stars stay just the right side of self parody and the genuinely spritely nature of the storytelling offers up a real charmer. Music by Philippe Sarde.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Philippe de Broca  (1933 - 2004)

This French director was best known internationally for his cult sixties movies Cartouche, That Man from Rio and King of Hearts, but he continued working up until his death. Other films included Tendre Poulet and Le Bossu.

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