Often unfairly dismissed as academic ,boring and pretentious this three-hour movie is actually a delight from start to finish.A cast of thousands,including all the who's who of the fifties actors.(the question is not :who plays in this film?but rather who DOESN'T?)They're all here from Jean Marais to Micheline Presles,from Bourvil to Charles Vanel.And if it were not enough,there's also Claudette Colbert as Madame de Montespan and an unrecognizable Orson Welles as Benjamin Franklin.To top it all,famous French chanteuse Edith Piaf sings "ah!ça ira! ça ira!"the revolutionary hymn,perched on the gates of Versailles.And Brigitte Bardot in a cameo(watch out!).
"Si Versailles m'était conté" is an exquisite blend of footnotes of history,sound and light show and theatre de boulevard.At first sight it could be an accumulation of clichés,scenes of traditional royal life as depicted in (not so very)old History books for grade schools .But further acquaintance shows this:Guitry ,with his Madame Tussaud-like characters transcends these clichés with gusto,wit and humor,sometimes à la Billy Wilder.There are lots of tongue-in -cheek dialogues,puns,anachronisms and students jokes.
Sometimes the film verges on absurd humor:gathering Louis XVI,Marie-Antoinette,Robespierre,Chénier the poet,and scientist Lavoisier in the first days of the revolution ,Guitry makes them talk about death penalty."I wouldn't like to die on the scaffold" the king says "neither would I"all his mates answer.A voice over -there's probably the biggest use of voice-over in the history of cinema in this movie- concludes:"And yet,everybody would put his head on the guillotine!".The chevalier d'Eon scene predates "some like it hot" last sequence by five years!Yes it does!
Masterfully constructed,the film ends with an auction sale,and no less than three "please remember the guide " visits!
Comic is sometimes tinged with sadness and a certain nostalgia:Louis the Fourteenth's old age echoes that of the director -who plays the part of the old king-,and the scenes with Madame de Maintenon provide the negative of the bright Montespan era.
Forget history,don't be a highbrow,and you'll enjoy "Si Versailles m'était conté"!
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