Leconte's costumer, detailing the deceit and moral destitution of pre-Revolutionary Versailles, is an idiosyncratic, but never self-indulgent caricature of aristocratic belle esprit, as the 18th century lobbying system secures political advancement through finely wrought dirty gibes. To the court comes Ponceludon de Malavoy (Berling), a hydrologist seeking royal sponsorship for a scheme to drain his marshes. Though struck by the alien ways of the courtly class, with his rapier tongue he could profit in a world where 'wit opens every door'. He finds an ally in the Marquis de Bellegarde (Rochefort), and in Bellegarde's daughter, the buxom Mathilde (Godrèche). But does he have the force of character to survive the self-serving designs of his competitors, typified by the Comtesse de Blayac (Ardant) and her lover, the Abbé de Vilecourt (Giraudeau)? And can he preserve his sense of mission amid the temptations of self-glory? Leconte was never in danger of succumbing to the trappings of period drama, but it's remarkable how distinct in tone this is from such flamboyant extravagances as The Hairdresser's Husband or Tango. Rather than indulging the eccentric rebelliousness of his characters, this is a more sober, mature work, a disquisition on personal corruption, the duplicity of social graces and the malignancy of self-enclosed elites. Rather deliberately paced, and mired in archaic and abstruse puns, the film is perhaps more interesting than enjoyable. Still, Leconte's customary zest and mordant humour are there, lurking behind the claustrophobic production design and free-spirited camerawork.
Cast and crew