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Judy Cox

Reviews
Film

Blood wedding

(March 1995)


From Socialist Review, No. 184, March 1995, pp. 26–27.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


La Reine Margot
Dir: Patrice Chereau

La Reine Margot is sumptuous, fascinating and filled with great emotional intensity. The film tells the story of a real historical event, the St Bartholemew’s Day massacre which took place in 1572 in France. The marriage of Catholic Marguerite de Valois, the French king’s sister, to Protestant Prince Henry of Navarre sparked off the brutal slaughter of up to 25,000 Protestants and 30 years of devastating warfare.

The massacre is familiar to any French schoolchild, but it is an unusual subject for a French film. French cinema is well known for avoiding the horrific incidents of French history. Patrice Chereau, La Reine Margot’s director, said recently that in many French films ‘history is just a pretext. They make no claim to be dealing with the political situation of the time. I chose to look at history from a moral point of view. How do you come to terms with this monstrosity? How do you live it?’

Chereau talks about the film’s relevance to the war in Bosnia, but some film critics interpret it as a collective admission of French guilt, including collaboration with Nazi Germany. Thus the scenes of the aftermath of the massacre are deeply reminiscent of footage of Auschwitz.

Chereau has no hesitation in showing the French ruling class as utterly corrupt and vicious, dominated by the scheming old Queen Catherine de Medici. Those who are not poisoning their way to power are weak and useless, such as Henry of Navarre, known as the founder of modern France, who is uncouth and spineless.

Chereau has also directed a play by Christopher Marlowe about the massacre, and one of the film’s great strengths is the way that, as in Marlowe’s or Shakespeare’s plays, personal themes intertwine with great historical and political events. Thus King Charles, a weak and foolish figure, gives the infamous command to slaughter all the Protestants – ‘I don’t want a single one left alive who can come back and reproach me’ – because he is guilt ridden and fearful. To prepare for the film, the director apparently watched hours of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, so the film combines theatrical drama with cinematic style. The result is intriguing plot and characters and strong visual images, such as the slow death of King Charles, sweating blood, or Margot, her white dress dripping blood.

The film is dominated by Isabelle Adjani as Margot. She develops from a corrupt and manipulated object to a figure of courage and principle. Her relationship with her lover is never as interesting as the plotting of her family. The most interesting relationship in the film is that between her Protestant lover and the Catholic Coconnas, which expresses the potential for human beings to overcome bigotry and predjudice.

The only weakness of La Reine Margot is that the historical significance of the characters is not as well known to English audiences as to French and therefore, the impact of the damning critique of the church and the royal family is weakened. Apart from this, the film is absolute proof that it is possible to make a film about a historical event which is gorgeous, engrossing and a devastating attack on the ruling class and the bigotry and hatred it uses to maintain its rule.


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