Ridicule [VHS]
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87 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2003
It's the waning days of the old regime in France. A conscientious but impoverished nobleman from the south travels to Versailles to petition the royal government for funds to drain his swamps so that his tenants can be spared periodic outbreaks of disease. Instead of finding the sympathetic ears he expected, he finds a government nearing bankruptcy, a well-intentioned but befuddled king who is surrounded by a bureaucracy trying to temper the king's naive generosity and stave off the final collapse, and an aristocracy that has descended into a depraved comedy of manners. All substantive thought at court has been replaced by endless games of witticisms, whereby a person's social standing and political access are functions of mastering the art of the putdown . . . preferrably in as ascerbic a manner as possible.
To everyone's surprise -- including his own -- our hero turns out to be quite good at the art of malicious wit. First trying to use his new-found talent to speed up his campaign to drain his swamps, he soon succumbs to the appeal of the game for the game's sake. A series of events eventually snaps him back to reality, and therein lies the plot of the piece.
This is a supremely engaging costume piece. The cast is superb, the settings and costumes dead-on accurate, the dialog entertaining and sophisticated. In the end, it's really a gorgeously-filmed morality play about the triumph of conscience over wealth, power, and hollow social graces. The only real fault with the movie from a historical perspective is that it portrays Louis XVI as the affable nitwit of popular legend instead of the serious monarch overwhelmed by ultimately uncontrollable events that he really was.
This movie is so good at drawing you in that you soon cease to notice you're reading subtitles (at least if you don't speak fluent French). Although the plot hinges on the most delicate subtleties of 18th-century court French, the story telegraphs through with searing clarity. And it's a story for all times, all places, and all tongues.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
This reminds me a lot of Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and Valmont (1989) in its cynicism and sharp wit. Set in France during the same time period (the eve of the French Revolution--that's the eighteenth century, reviewers), Ridicule concentrates not so much on sexual intrigues (although there is plenty of that) but on cynical wit as though in homage to Voltaire, France's master of satire whose spirit is suffused throughout.

First a warning. Don't let the rather gross crudity of the opening scene mislead you. That is meant merely as satire, not as a presaging of further crudities to come. It is also meant as a kind of cinematic joke since there is no comparable female nudity in the entire film. Indeed, there is no comparable, shall we say "expression," anywhere in legitimate filmdom that I am aware of. So let it pass or close your eyes.

Charles Berling stars as Gregoire Ponceludon de Malavoy, a country engineer who comes to Versailles to get financial backing to drain a swamp to save the peasants who are dying of mosquito-borne disease. ("Peasants feed aristocrats as well as mosquitos.") He discovers very quickly that a way to an audience with Louis XVI is through gaining a reputation as a clever courtier. Guided by M. Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort), a retired courtier himself, Ponceludon quickly picks up the games of wit and ridicule that reign at court. His quick and clever mind and youthful good looks gain the attention of the king's mistress, Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant) who demonstrates how access to the king can come through her bedroom. Ponceludon is sincere only in his desire to drain the swamp and so readily allows himself to become another of Blayac's lovers in exchange for a chance to present his program to Louis XVI.

At the same time he meets Bellegarde's daughter Mathide (Judith Godrèche), an idealistic beauty with a scientific bent, who is betrothed to a dying old man of wealth and position. They fall in love, but their differing agendas keep them apart.

What makes this film such a delight is the delicious way it satirizes the decadent court of Louis XVI. The dramatic irony is superb and absolute in the sense that at no time does director Patrice Leconte give even the slightest hint that any of the byzantine sycophants at court are aware that Danton and the Terror await them. Throw in the impending Industrial (and scientific) Revolution symbolized in the form of Ponceludon and Mathide, and the ancien régime with its antiquated feudal titles and corrupt privilege is seen for what it was, a parasitic anachronism, ripe to rot for destruction.

The sets, the direction and especially the acting are excellent. Veteran Rochefort is particularly good in a part that depends on a directive and expressive face amid the whispers at court. Berling is smooth and believable as a man with a noble mission, adroit at repartee, love and dueling, a modest and earnest hero.

Godrèche is good, but seems a little restrained here. She is an impossibly healthy, handsome beauty no man could resist. I first saw her as a 17-year-old in The Disenchanted (1990) where her adolescent charm was carefully and craftily displayed by director Benoît Jacquot. Here Leconte concentrates on her strength of character.

Fanny Ardant's Madame de Blayac is a Machiavellian mistress of love's duplicity, very much like the Marquise de Merteuil from Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont. Her performance compares favorably with that of Glenn Close and Annette Bening, respectively, although there is an earthy quality to Ardant that seems most realistic. Her character is also more vulnerable.

The sets are sumptuous without being artificially showy. The gray, high-topped wigs and the beaked-nosed masks at ball are charming and, along with the gilded attire, the caked makeup, etc., somehow suggest the true state of costume and personal hygiene circa 1784, reminding me that in those days people did not generally wear underpants or take showers.

Some bon mots:

"The soul of wit is to know one's place."

When asked by the king to say something witty about the king himself, Ponceludon returns: "The king is not a subject." The king asks if this is not a (lowly) pun, but is assured that it is a "play on words."

When Blayac discerns that Ponceludon is not entirely smitten with her, she responds, "Learn to hide your insincerity so that I may yield without dishonor."

The film closes with a scene in England on a cliff overlooking the English channel. Bellegarde and another reflect on the changes after the revolution: "Wit was the very air we breathed." "Now the bloated rhetoric of Danton rules in place of wit." Bellegarde's hat is blown off by the wind. His companion remarks: "Better your hat than your head."

By the way, the subtitles (and this is usually not the case) are excellent, inventive and faithful enough, while comfortably brief, to have been done by a professional translator instead of by someone handy who is passably bilingual.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Ridicule is a French film which takes place in 1783, a few years before Louis XVI lost the ability to wear a hat; where "...in this country, vices are without consequence, but ridicule can kill." The film is about the effect of wit and word play on people's lives and careers. Malicious, mannered and highly enjoyable. Charles Berling, Jean Rochefort, Bernard Giraudeau and Fanny Ardant are excellent. A man would be a fool not to want to bed Ardant, and even more a fool to trust her.

The film is sumptuously mounted and the DVD transfer does it justice. The dialogue is so clever a knowledge of French might be in order, but the English subtitles do a superb job of conveying the witty, cruel, self-serving word play.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
RIDICULE deserved all the lavish praise it engendered upon its release in 1996. As a period piece (France in the final throes of King Louis XVI) it is one of the finest - visually, contextually, musically, AND it is wonderfully intelligent! Unlike many period pieces that serve as elegant decoration for meager stories, RIDICULE carries pungent statements about the decline of aristocracy and the whispers of the cause of democracy.

A poor humanitarian travels from the ill swamps of Southern France to the court of Versailles to seek funding from the Royal Court to correct the deplorable living conditions ignored by the King. Upon arrival he finds a vapid society diverting attention from problems that plague the kingdom by inventing word games whose purpose is to find who can is best able to ridicule the fellow shallow players of this verbal chess game. Finding he has the gift to outclass the court with his verbal wit our humanitarian is 'accepted' into nobility and spars with the finest. For a while our humanitarian's focus is diffused by women, duels, and other diversions of the court until he finally regroups his cause and returns to the suffering sector from whence he came...with the ability to correct the conditions at last.

The cast of Director Patrice Laconte's gem is exemplary and includes such fine actors as Charles Berling, Fanny Ardant, Jean Rochefort, Judith Godrèche, Bernard Giraudeau, and the mute role so sensitively performed by Bruno Zanardi (the one constant presence who keeps us reminded of just how absurdly low the court of France has fallen). The costumes by Christian Gasc (especially in the masked ball) are some of the more sumptuous ever created and the musical score by Antoine Duhamel and cinematography by Thierry Arbogast capture the atmosphere of both comedy and underling decay that makes this film so fine.

Truly a film for those who enjoy double entendres and acerbic wit, this film grows better with repeated viewings. In French with English subtitles. Grady Harp, May 05
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 4, 2006
The first time we glimpse Madame de Blayac (Fanny Arendt)she is naked and servants are blowing white powder all over her body and face to give her the semblance of a flawless complexion. We do not know it yet but this may as well be a war painting ceremony. She and her accomplice, the appropriately named L'Abbe de Vilecourt, are two of Versailles most powerful and viscious social figures. If they decide that you are witty then you are invited to become a part of their coterie, but if you are dull then they heap their ridicule on you in one of their public disgracing ceremonies. Madame de Blayac and Vilecourt seem to thrive on their capacity for cruelty; it is the measure of their power.

Into this world trots an unsuspecting young country lord named Malavoy (Charles Berling) who desperately needs funds to drain the swamps on his estate to prevent his peasants from dying of mosquito related illnesses. The only chance he has of receiving the necessary funds is if he can gain an audience with the king. However, a whole world of courtly proprieties stand between Malavoy and the king. In short, to get to the king Malavoy must negotiate Madame de Blayac's and Vilecourt's crucible of wit.

With his natural gift for verbal display Malavoy immediately impresses Madame de Blayac and her circle but she is not the type to do anything for anybody unless she gets something out of it herself and it soon becomes clear to Malavoy that Madame de Blayac will require that he tend to her private as well as her public pleasures and in return she will see to it that he get his audience with the king.

Meanwhile en route between court and country Malavoy is robbed and left for dead on the road. A country doctor (Jean Rochefort) finds him and helps him to recover at his country estate where Malavoy falls immediately smitten with the doctor's beautiful daughter Mathilde (Judith Godreche). Malavoy and Mathilde immediately hit it off despite the fact that the teenage Mathilde is in the process of negotiating a marriage with a man five times her age. But as soon as Malavoy is healthy enough he must return to the court in order to press his case once again and that means a return to the courts vices and follies and, of course, to Madame de Blayac.

As far as Malavoy is concerned as soon as he has his chance to present his case to the king his obligation to Madame de Blayac will be over but Malavoy does not realize that the game is over only when Madame de Blayac says it is over. And once Madame de Blayac discovers that Malavoy has a woman in the country her revenge is swift.

Malavoy's natural wit shines against the opulent artificial surfaces of Versailles and he defeats the overly crafted wit of Vilecourt time and again but we fear that these are only small skirmishes in a war of the wits that he cannot win. We just hope that Malavoy will be able to escape this vile world before its too late.

The most interesting scenes show a Malavoy that is not immune to the allures of court life, wealth and power and even of Madame de Blayac. And it is in these scenes that we wonder just how far he will go to get what he wants and whether there will ever be any turning back once he gets there. We see a secession of lords and barons who have their own cases to plead ridiculed and turned away and we know Malavoy's turn will eventually come, for ridicule is the courts way of keeping the insiders in and the outsiders out and Malavoy is only a guest in this world.

The ending is a surprise. It comes a little abruptly and yet it also seems perfect. The mystique of wit and ridicule (of arbitrary power or power exercised arbitrarily, and of the snobberies of high society) haunts the minds of those who were wounded as well as wowed by it even after the regime that sponsored it has vanished.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2007
RIDICULE is an orignal and "one-of-a-kind" film whose subject matter is the elaborate and brilliant use of language. Oh, yes, it's also about the intrigues and nastiness of the royal court in the early days of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and it's also one of the most accurate and believable re-creations of what life must have been like then. It captures attitudes about ideas and snobbery, about skill and competition that is in another ballpark from Sophia Coppola's re-creation of the time. The characters in her film would stand tonge-tied in front of any characters in this film and be held up to ridicule. One of the most dazzling scenes in the film is a contest in which dinner guests must create rhymed couplets on a subject given them--in meter and context--where they get to be clever, brilliant and contemplative. At a recent showing to American high school students, the reaction was one of astonishment--it opened a world of expression the kids could not have imagined ever existed.

Many were surprisingly enthusiastic! The film is witty, creul and unrelenting--high entertainment for anyone who wants escape from a world of mutants and exploding cars into a world of wit,elegance and grace, with a lesson in the real ways of the world thrown in!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 25, 2006
Certainly one of the best French films, Ridicule ranks alongside other cinematic greats. In an attempt to have the pestiferous swamp drained that is killing his town, an idealistic young doctor makes his way to the court of Louis XVI. At court he finds that wit is the way to fame and an audience. But there are rules; never laugh at your own jokes, don't pun, and the best wit of all is ridicule at the expense of another (who is also vying for the king's attention.) Entangled in the lures of two beautiful women, many witty barbs are traded as the young doctor maneuvers to be seen, heard, and bankrolled in order to acheive his aims.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2003
The characters of "Ridicule" walk a tenuous line in a setting where wit is the only currency. They lead lives filled with shallow hypocrisies and carefully planned jokes. Every pleasantry is two-faced; earnestness is shunned in favour of irony. They exchange scathing bon mots and comebacks, ridiculing each other in order to be accepted. They embark upon passionless affairs to climb socially. Gravitas is frowned upon, and there is always the knowledge that one day they will lose their sharpness or go too far, and be ridiculed themselves.
Gregoire Ponceludon de Malavoy (Charles Berling) comes to the court of Versailles to see the king. He needs money to drain a disease-riddled swamp where his people work and die. His chances look slim until it turns out that he has a quick tongue. He is taken under the wing of an elderly courtier, Monsieur Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort) and trained in the ways of the court (never laugh at your own jokes, never laugh with your mouth open - and never pun).
Ponceludon is soon captivated by Bellegarde's beautiful daughter Mathilde (Judith Godreche), who has plans of her own - she is designing a diving suit and marrying a rich old man to finance it. Meanwhile, Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant), an affluent widow of the court with great social placing, spots Ponceludon herself and they embark upon an affair of mutual convenience. His only desire for her lies in the fact that her bedroom leads to the king, and therefore to financial gain for his project. They both know this, and there is a scene where she laughs at him and tells him, "Learn to hide your insincerity so that I may yield without dishonour".
Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, "Ridicule" is a treat for the senses. Fanny Ardant in particular is outstanding: she is a captivating actress who should be seen more often here, and to better advantage. The film itself is perhaps a little like the French version of "Dangerous Liaisons". Filled with sharp wit that isn't necessarily coming out of the mouths of the characters, it serves as a reminder that perhaps we have more in common with the shallow butterflies of this film that we might care to admit.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2005
This is a classic, and one of the best period movies I have ever seen. The script is clever and witty and the performances are peerless. You will not be disappointed if you like sexual and political intrigue mixed in with brilliant dialogue set in 18th century France.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2005
This movie gives a great portrayal of eighteenth-century court intrigues and culture. Many people don't know just how insane life could be during that time, especially for the upper classes. Seeing this film will give one a clue as to how French courtiers lived in the days before the Revolution. I suggest starting with this film, then moving on to other, more esoteric works if you want to begin a journey into eighteenth-century France.
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