CINEMA : Margot: a royal in search of a roll

WITH delicious irony, the great dissection of British monarchy turns out to be French. La Reine Margot (18) is too stately and subtle to be taken as a broadside at our royals, but the House of Windsor must feel some rumbles from its mighty impact . The events are set in 16th-century France, and they show our current royal crop to be mere amateurs in matters of regal decline and decadence. The marriage of religious convenience between the Catholic Margot (Isabelle Adjani) and the Protestant Henri de Navarre (Daniel Auteuil) is, Prince Charles-style, loveless, but also avowedly sexless. When Margot fancies a fling with a commoner (Vincent Perez's La Mole), mere toe-sucking is not enough: she mounts him against the castle wall in full public view.

As for adultery - don't mention anything so tame. We are dealing with multiple incest, rape and murder. The symptoms are more extreme than here and now. But the disease is the same: the dilemma of being royal.

Nowhere is this made clearer than in Isabelle Adjani's mercurial Margot, a royal in search of a role. When we first meet her, she looks to be what Lord Charteris would term a vulgarian - her coarse laughter mocking her own marriage as she eyes up a suitable stranger to spend the night with. Her almond eyes are those of a soul alarmed but also tainted by the hatred around her. As the film progresses, and her love for the protestant La Mole prospers, her character softens and brightens. "One da y you'll know who you are," Henri tells her. Manacled to her royal station, she must constantly re-invent herself. In this tenebrous world, she knows the need to keep bright amid the shadows.

At this point, I'd better put on my galoshes and wade into the gore of the plot. It's 1572. The marriage of Margot and Henri, a ruse to unite Catholics and Protestants, is a sham, designed by Catherine de Medici (Virna Lisi), the effective ruler of state, to wrap up the kingdom for her son, King Charles IX (Jean-Hugues Anglade). The failure of this ploy leads to the St Bartholomew Day massacre in Paris of 6,000 Protestants. That pricks Margot's conscience to attend to the fate of her lover and her husband, both Protestants. Poison and ferocious boar-hunting play their part.

There are twists and turns, and gruesome deaths (a man sweating out his own blood) straight from Jacobean tragedy, and the mood is of the charnel-house. Much of the credit for the disturbing atmosphere must go to Philippe Rousselot's grimly beautiful cinematography. A career of ravishing images, in France (Diva, Trop belle pour toi) and America (Dangerous Liaisons), has established Rousselot as one of the few cameramen with his own palette. Like a bat, he is especially attracted to the dark and to candles. Here, often a third of the screen is convulsed in blackness - in the maw of an empty fireplace or the gloom of the shadows - so that the dark seems poised to swallow up the wretched players on the regal stage.

Rousselot also photographed Interview with the Vampire, which opens next week. It too has a nocturnal splendour, but the light - perhaps because it's a Hollywood film - is softer. In La Reine Margot it is harsh and unforgiving - especially to the faces of its scheming cast. Catherine de Medici is given a skull-like pallor. Dressed throughout in a black dress which covers and crushes her bosom, her hair scraped back under a veil, she resembles a poisonous insect. Nor are we spared the writhing moods of the unstable king (an intriguing performance from Jean-Hugues Anglade, the boyfriend in Betty Blue), which display how the greatest paranoia often springs from the greatest power.

Unsavoury characters scuttle through the film like vermin. A special mention must go to Ulrich Wildgruber's Rene, an acolyte of Catherine de Medici, who specialises in perfume and poison. With his flabby face, balding pate and flustered manner, this dea d ly practitioner is a Gallic Roy Kinnear, and comes to symbolise the blithe cruelty of the court. As Margot asks: "What is betrayal but one's skill at following events?" If the film has a redeeming strand, it is the way Margot finds rapprochement in roman ce, proving the power of people over politics.

Devotees of French cinema may be ambivalent about La Reine Margot. It is sumptuous, accomplished and just a bit empty. We're used to accusing British cinema of doting on the past. Now the tendency has crossed the Channel, with a French-heritage cinema which is largely the creation of one man, Claude Berri (director of Jean de Florette and last year's Germinal). Berri is said to have had a production role in La Reine Margot, but he is not credited as producer. That may be significant, as part o f director Patrice Chereau's achievement is to steer away from Berri's brand of celebratory gentility.

Chereau pitches the film between two poles: the sordid and the ethereal. Between the pomp and hushed beauty of Margot's wedding and the horror of the dead heaped in piles by the roadside, waiting for wagons to carry them to unmarked mass graves (a Holocaust of religious hatred whose contemporary relevance cannot be missed). When Margot saves La Mole, the imagery is of Mary Magdalene lifting Christ off the cross. The achievement of Chereau's film is to reveal the people, in all their squalor and occasional grace, behind the myth of royalty - that, and to make two-and-a-half hours zip by.

We are still in Paris for Killing Zoe (18), and the bodies are still piling up, though this time it is the present day. Directed by Roger Avary, a pal and collaborator of Quentin Tarantino, Killing Zoe feels like a stray tale from Pulp Fiction: perhaps the story of what happened to John Travolta's Vincent Vega in Paris that time he learnt about the metric system and "le Big Mac". Eric Stoltz plays an American safe-breaker who has been hired by French friends to work with them on a bank raid. Julie Delpy plays the prostitute, Zoe, who confuses their plans. Like Tarantino's work, the film is hip, funny (particularly Gary Kemp's cameo as a stupid but effusive gang member), and fascinated by the dangers of taking recreation too far. There is also the same worrying euphoria in violence, without the same acute ear for modern speech. There is a sequence that seems to stand for the whole movie (similar to one in Tarantino's script for Natural Born Killers): a joke told by a gang member which ends in a bloodba th.

Eat Drink Man Woman (PG) is Ang Lee's follow-up to The Wedding Banquet, and takes the foodie theme a course further. It is the story of a great Taiwanese chef (Sihung Lung), of diminishing powers, and his relationship with his three restive, home-living

daughters - a culinary King Lear. The food - dishes such as Dragon Swimming on Yellow Sea (lobster and sliced kiwi - preparation time: six hours) - is mouth-watering. But the constant parallels between food and love are too facile to be illuminating. Th e movie works as romantic melodrama - with a surprise finale - but is more of a starter than a main course. To leave an audience hungry is not always a sign of success.

Nostradamus (15) is a watchable biopic of the 16th-century seer, undeserving of the gales of derision that greeted its press showing. Not enough is made of the story's phantasmagoric possibilities, and we learn little about Nostradamus (Tcheky Karyo), other than that he was ravenous for both knowledge and sex. But we get a glimpse of how his inspiration may have sprung from a mixture of science and trauma.

All F***ed Up (18), now running at the ICA, starts with some gloomy, videotaped views on love, sex and Aids, and grows into a tale of unrequited gay love. It is most effective in depicting a Los Angeles wasteland, populated by rootless, disenfranchised

youth: a world where happiness is not so much an illusion as an impossibility.

Cinema details: Review, page 74. `The River Wild' has been delayed.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world