“You shouldn’t betray yourself to win favour.”
The French film Marquise, based on a true story, is set in the sumptuous seventeenth century and follows the rise and fall of a beautiful actress–Marquise (Sophie Marceau)–a woman who uses her charms to further her ambitions. When the film begins, Moliere (Bernard Giraudeau) and his traveling troupe of actors stop in a rowdy town, and he spies a nimble young girl dancing on an impromptu stage. Moliere is fascinated by the girl’s beauty and grace, and when his leading comedian Gros-Rene (Patrick Timsit) offers to marry Marquise and take her to Paris, a deal is struck with her impoversished, opportunistic father.
Once in Paris, Marquise’s initial attack of stage fright causes Moliere to assign her minor tasks, but her determination and ambitious nature bring her to the attention of Moliere’s rival, Racine (Lambert Wilson), and also eventually to King Louis XIV (Thierry Lhermitte). Marquise’s story is that of many beautiful women–she knows the power of her beauty–she uses her looks to get what she wants, and then suffers when she’s used for her beauty alone.
Actors and playwrights are seen as rather desperate people trying to please an audience and the petulant king. At one point, Moliere is forced to perform a tragedy, and his usual tavern going crowds aren’t prepared for the noble statements–they just want raucous, bawdy comedy. The film spares little as it recreates the glories of this excessive age. With magnificent sets, splendid costumes, and fine acting, the film suffers from being too superficial in its treatment of Marquise (her initial rather modern dance scene lacks only a pole to twirl around). On several occasions, when she’s stymied, she stamps her foot and runs off, and this makes her a slightly less interesting character. That said–the film’s depiction of Louis is marvelous. We are privy to several moments in his daily routine (he’s ordered to take a bath, for example), and the entire court stands around watching–oohing and aahing as he steps into the water. While Louis is portrayed as a ridiculous example of conspicuous consumption, at one point, at one point, he pounces on someone and displays his terrible power. Lovers of French costume drama (Horseman on the Roof) should enjoy this one. From director Vera Belmont, the film is in French with English subtitles.