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The Great Disconnect-Aristocrats and Common People=Revolution
on June 13, 2010
This is a wonderful depiction of the consequences of a massive disconnect between the "haves" and "have nots" in a society. The consequences of the great disconnect in the France of Louis XVI are amply documented in history books. The movie is beautifully shot as a historical period piece. The cinematography is lush and sensual in its tone. It's message, however, is not confined to the time period.
Charles Berling, as Le Marquis Grégoire Ponceludon de Malavoy, is the French equivalent of an English country squire. The peasants on his estate are dying of diseases cause by a mosquito-infested swamp on his estate. He goes to Versailles to petition the king for funds to drain the swamp and save the lives of his peasants.
He arrives naively thinking that a straightforward discussion of the merits of his engineering project will win him the necessary funds. He is soon disabused of that notion by the disdainful bureaucrats who inhabit different wings of the Versailles castle. By chance he is fortunately taken under the wing of an experienced doctor and courtier, Le Marquis de Bellegarde, played by the excellent Jean Rochefort.
The doctor tutors de Malavoy in the ways of the court, where only wit and ridicule matter. De Malavoy finds that the only way to obtain funds for a practical project like draining a swamp is to become a favorite at court, where one must must be witty and lucky rather than smart and good. De Malavoy sets out to accomplish his practical goal which can only be achieved by engaging in an absurd gamesmanship wholly unrelated to dying peasants or the general good. Wit gains favor and funding, ridicule results in banishment from the court.
De Malavoy is fortunate to have the wit necessary to thrive at court and to catch the attention of one of the king's beautiful courtesans, Madame de Blayac, played by the gorgeous Fanny Ardant. Madame can make or break him. His relationship with her and the doctor's beautiful daughter, Mathilde (Judith Godreche), is the pivot point of the story. De Malavoy is called upon to put means over the end in order to save his loyal peasantry.
You will have to see the movie to discover whether de Malavoy is able to finally drain the swamp. History shows, of course, that the swamp that was Louis XVI's court was eventually drained; by the ridiculed peasants of the French Revolution. The corruption and cynicism of a dying regime and its court are wonderfully captured in "Ridicule". Both history and art are well-served in this movie.