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  • "Ridicule" confirms well a thing: Patrice Leconte is one of the most talented French film-makers that French cinema has known. His gift comes from the fact that ke knows how to find original and eye-catching subjects for his movies and he also knows how to make them fascinating (watch "mister Hire" or "the hairdresser's wife" to be aware of it).

    Here, he chose to broach a make his movie around a feeling that men always dreaded: ridicule. The action takes place in 1780, in the reign of Louis XVI. A young noble (Charles Berling) intends to get a meeting with the king, in Versailles. Indeed, he'd like him to lend important sums of money so as to drain marshes infected by mosquitos. This action will enable to save hundreds of peasants. But what Berling doesn't know is that he's not the only one who wants to get a meeting with the king. Hundreds of nobles like him feel the same thing. Above all, according to an elderly noble (Jean Rochefort), when you're in the court of a king, you have to avoid the ridicule which consequences can be disastrous. Berling will learn it, will face it and will just avoid it.

    You could compare the court of Louis XVI as a jungle where only the strong survive. The strong are those who are quick-witted and skillful-minded. Ridicule invades the weak and leads them to disgrace, even suicide. With this movie, Leconte's aim is at denouncing vanity and hypocrisy of courtiers in the court of the king who take advantage of their privileged situation.

    An outstanding and precise film-making, a dazzling performance especially Jean Rochefort and some powerful cues ("now, you mustn't make a single mistake" said Rochefort to Berling when the last one's going to meet the king). Obviously, the movie doesn't lack ironical humor: when the king asks to a courtier: "I hope it's not a pun" and the courtier replies: "no, Sir, it's a play on words". Play on words and pun mean the same thing.

    At the end, a brilliant movie rightly awarded in France where it won the Oscar for the Best movie in 1997
  • 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.

    (Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
  • 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 love affair between Berling and his deep-diving sweetheart is amusing and endearing.

    The film is sumptuously mounted. 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.
  • Katie-9329 May 2000
    I must say that I wish I could speak better French, simply because this film has such a great sense of humor, it would only intensify the hilarity of the picture. The story was not perhaps the most original, then again, what is? This film had heart and a flow about it that was very interesting and pleasing to the eye and soul. Sometimes I hoped that I could see the lives of the other people in the plot, like that little deaf/mute boy, Paul or whatever happened to the abbot? Overall, I must say that the film is beautifully shot, funny in a very literary, upper minded way and a sheer delight. Not for those with a taste for low-brow humor however.
  • I have to say that this film is certainly not for an audience with a predilection for sophomoric or low-brow "hu-mah". The action in this film is nearly entirely a matter of verbal cut and thrust and quick repartee. A period piece shot in pre-revolutionary France in the days of King Louis and Marie Antoinette, Ridicule portrays an era when wit could earn a passport into courtly favor, and one verbal faux pas could ruin a man's reputation and position in society. Charles Berling's performance as Ponceledon, the rustic nobleman trying to bring his petition to drain the disease-infested swamps of his region before the King of France, is in a word, superb... Fanny Ardant is also a well-cast Madame de Blayac, the dexterously duplicitous countess who appears disposed towards aiding Ponceledon in his suit. Ridicule is a genuinely delightful comedy. I recommend it highly even to those who do not speak French. My rating: 9/10.
  • This is a very very intelligent movie. From a historical point of view, it's perfect! It shows how cruel and vain the French noblesse was before the French Revolution of 1789, and why this country had a revolution! It's also a fantastic movie for the beauty of the French language. Actors are fabulous, with Berling, Rochefort and Ardant. For me, French cinema is always at it's peak when they're doing comedy of historical movies, like this one, or Beaumarchais l'insolent, Marquise, or Cyrano de Bergerac. By the way, I'd like to tell Thefan-2 of Detroit that the Ridicule of the title don't mean Ridiculous. In the Renaissance French language, it means Hard. And that's what is facing Berling, when he wants to get in touch the king to help the poor people of his land.
  • davidguy6 September 2001
    I have seen this film recently on video after having missed it at the cinema and on TV. I knew it would be all about cruelty of words and superficiality of elites. Indeed, this film is a true gem, very well played, sharp and quick. It tells the story of a young provincial nobleman discovering the Versailles Court as he tries to get funding for his project. What he finds will lead the nobility to its brutal end 6 years later: futility, self-conceit, disinterest to the people's problems, superficiality of relationships (all of which still pervade it modern French elite, to some respects as was evident from revelations of Mitterrand's shameful reign). Of course the political message is important. But equally if not more important -or pleasurable- are the dialogues. French can be so brutal, insidious, cruel, tortured, witty when used a propos that I'm not sure the non-French speakers could get the most of the dialogues. Certainly the absolutely brilliant rhymes contest would be somehow lost in English subtitles. A very good 9/10 for this movie, and a bit less if you don't get the dialogues.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    ONLY ONE SPOILER: When I searched the internet for reviews of this movie, I found several reviews by male movie reviewers who seemed to feel outrage, shock and disgust at the opening scene. I thought to myself, how bad could this be? I mean, what DON'T they show in movies these days? Should I allow my teenage children to see the film? What WAS this scene, and were there more like it? No review was specific as to answering my questions, so my husband and I watched it alone. Here is what that one scene is: A rather graphic scene (zoomed in and lasting a couple of seconds) of a nobleman's genitalia as he is urinating on an aged, disabled nobleman who had ridiculed him some 30 years earlier. Perhaps the outrage, shock and disgust felt by these male reviewers was due to the fact that instead of the typical female nudity we see everywhere in movies, for once we saw graphic male nudity. Who would've thought men to be so prudish? Now, before all you men out there attempt to perform your own version of witty repartee' and strike back at these comments, allow me to add that yes, while this one scene was graphic and shocking, that it was not done for the sake of shock, but rather to show what lengths people in positions of power went to in order to "protect" their own positions and sabotage that of others, ranging from ridicule and humiliation to violence and death. While I do not condone gratuitous nudity for the sake of pornography, I do feel this one scene accurately sets the tone of the tale and has meaning in it's ending.

    For some time I could not understand how the plight of so many French citizens could be so desperate and full of starvation and death while the wealthy did not suffer the same fate, and why nobody did anything to change this. If the portrayal of those in positions of power and wealth in this movie was depicted accurately, it is easy to understand how a once great country failed it's citizens when power and choice was held by those who were selfish, lazy, and possibly worse - silly. King Louis XVI has been written to be by many accounts, a man not able to rule, passive, indifferent to those around him near and far, and unable to repair the damage done by his predecessors, especially King Louis XIV when also abandonment of reason and over indulgence were the rule of the day.

    Along with the beautiful countryside, architecture and decor, costumes (couldn't they give "poor" Mathilde more than two dresses to wear during the entire film?) and great depiction of human nature and our inherent weaknesses, this movie was very entertaining and for me much more enjoyable than "Valmont"/"Dangerous Liaisons" to which it has been compared. While "Valmont"/"Dangerous Liaisions" also contained the above attributes, "Ridicule" contained an important element they did not - well developed characters and plot.
  • moulya29 July 2001
    Patrice Leconte's most achieved feature. The scenario mixes wit, cruelty, finest ferocious humor, politics and romance with a rare balance. Rhythm is fast, and the movie is served by a wonderful cast (many actors are among the best stage actors in France), notably main character Charles Berling and Bernard Gireaudeau's abbe de Villecourt. Jean Rochefort's supporting performance is outstanding, as is the impersonation of a Versailles court's bird of prey by Fanny Ardant. All in all, i.m.h.o., one of the best French movies of the 90s.
  • While I did admire many things about this French film I came away thinking that it was strangely uninvolving. Story is about a landowner who wants to start a project in his precinct where the local swamps and canals would be drained so that they can keep the mosquito population down because many people are getting sick and dying. Ponceludon (Charles Berling) heads to Versailles to see Louis XVI and ask him for a grant to pay for the project but Louis XVI is only interested in people with very sharp wit. The society in that area thrives on wit as much as money has value. An older man named Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort) takes him under his wing and advises him on how to use wit. Much to everyone's surprise Ponceludon is very good with wit and he gets to socialize with those near Louis XVI. Ponceludon falls in love with Bellegarde's daughter Mathilde (Judith Godreche) who is young and pretty and bosomy and is conducting research with a diving suit. Ponceludon seduces Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant) who knows his intentions but she uses him as well. Film is directed by Patrice Leconte who has always shown great sets and locations and this is a very impressive looking film. The performances are top notch and Rochefort seems born to play these types of roles. The best shot in the film comes near the end with Ardant who has been spurned by her lover even though he killed her previous suitor in a duel. The look of hurt and embarrassment on her face was the strongest in the film. Ardant despite her age is still easily one of the most beautiful women in the world. She exudes tremendous sexiness and the scene where she plays footsy under the table is a very sexy scene. But the film maintains its distance emotionally and it really doesn't allow the viewer to gather up any connection with it. One of the plot lines that should have had more impact is the romance between Berling and Godreche. Her breasts are practically falling out of her dress and he usually just stands there and tells her to be careful with her research. The romance between them just doesn't take off. It's not a bad film, in fact its pretty interesting but when its over you get the feeling that this film should have roped its viewers in better emotionally. All the ingredients are there. Good director, excellent actors, great locations and sets but something was lacking in the way the story was told.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Rarely do we witness an impeccable work of Art. Social issues duly addressed, it also bemuses us, and shows mean and altruistic motives combined in every person, noble or wicked. It is true frivolity doesn't come off very well in this film, but I find the contrast between l'ingénieur and la cour satisfying. I won't dance in our modern "cours" without having second thoughts from now on...

    I love Jean Rochefort's roles, this one seems hand picked for him. Intelligence, restraint, frivolity and pragmatism alla Rousseau form this character. I'd love to have a guide in life like him!

    Judith Godrèche's Mathilde de Bellegarde is fine. Probably too perfect, too much avant garde for the little education a woman was afforded at that time. But well, this and the fact that both father and daughter are "brilliant but poor" makes me wonder if this superb film does indeed have some elements of a feuilleton, of a pop novel. Like Cinderella, Lagardere and all its Hollywood variations, like, just to name one example, "Mona Lisa Smile". Mathilde said the cutting phrase I most liked of this film when observed that our hero started to like the corridors of power a bit for its own sake, mistaking his wit for his destiny. I wonder why Judith hasn't appeared on more quality films. Had her part been played by a lesser actress it would have brought the film to oblivion.

    Madame de Blayac is just perfect. Beautiful, cunning, devoid of feelings. L'Abbé de l'Epée (Serpent) is extremely well thought of. De Bellegarde's words: "when he speaks, it's already too late" proved to be just too accurate. For some reason, the relationships between the two "Marquises" is at times like those middlebrow US films of boxers, from Rocky to "Million dollar baby". But I don't want to show a demeaning side of my favourite film, so I'll keep to the bright side :).

    Music is, yes, PERFECT if you like the baroque. So is photography! The foggy duel with "L'Officier Duel", aerial views of "le marais" and some small moments, like the scene of the palace's flowers resembling it to a "The cure" song (an aspect S. Coppola's Marie Antoinette understood very well: the "modernity" of classic European culture). Any fool can film beauty at Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte. It takes a Leconte to show them under a new fresh light, "like if we had never seen them before".

    As usual, Berling is fine. Some actors are born with "the gift"; it's obvious he's one of the chosen ones. Yes, this film is similar to "Dangerous Liaisons", but I find Ridicule is far superior for having likable characters and a human story to tell besides the "fireworks".

    The storyboard is obviously perfect. C. O. DeRiemer in Amazon, "Terrell-4" at IMDb said something funny, in the spirit of the film, probably a good ending for this humble review. (On F. Ardant): "A man would be a fool not to want to bed Ardant, and even more a fool to trust her".

    Enjoy!

    PS: It's true that, as this reviewer writes, good command of French is in order if you want to follow this film. It would be like drowning in a marais.

    No subtitle could do the job, and maybe only in French does detached verbal swordplay appear "refined" :).
  • Ridicule deals with the consequences of a monarch or ruler running his empire according to his own personal interests, rather than concern for the greater good of the people. There were also a couple of underlying themes, such as the distribution of social classes overall and the ignorance of the upper classes, as well as the human suffering that comes as a result of arrogance, ego, and social status. A romantic conflict was a significant part of the story, dealing with the pain and guilt that someone may feel from seducing one person for manipulative purposes and actually being in love with a different person.

    The story is of a man named Ponceludon de Malavoy who needs to drain a mosquito and disease infested swamp, but he needs King Louis XVI's help to do it. He travels to Versailles, but finds that he needs to have the sharpest of all wits in order for the king to recognize his problem at all. He finds himself in a society driven almost exclusively by the measure of each person's wit (or `hew-mah,' as they heard it was called in English), and the seriousness of Ponceludon's plight was second to this point, if it is noticed at all. It was more important to King Louis XVI to be entertained than it was to drain a swamp that was causing sickness and death even among children.

    One scene in particular was very effective in demonstrating the ignorance of the upper class. There was a boy named Paul who was a deaf-mute, and seen as a `half-wit' by the upper class people. Obviously, in this society this is the last thing that anyone wants to be. He is exiled from the kingdom, sent to live with other ‘half-wits,' only to return later with several other deaf-mutes after having learned to communicate using sign language. They are introduced to the upper class members, who are skeptical about the worth of the half-wits' lives. When they see that these kids are able to communicate, they are noticeably impressed. They even give them a standing applaud when one of them manages to make a `play on signs.' They see that these kids are not only intelligent enough to communicate, but can even be witty using sign language, and this completely changes their view. They had always seen people like Paul as less important, simply because they are not able to speak or hear, which is clearly a symptom of classical ignorance.

    Ridicule is a period film, and it was very effective in illustrating the differences between elements of society today and of the society of 1793. Obviously, honesty is very highly valued today. A recent survey showed that honesty is the third thing that women truly desire in a relationship (preceded by affection at No.1 and conversation at No.2). The same survey showed sex to be Number one on men's importance list, and this completes one of the sharpest contrasts seen in Ridicule. Ponceludon de Malavoy, the man seeking to have his swamp drained, is engaging in a sexual relationship with Marquis de Bellegarde, an attractive older woman of much higher social status (!!). When he informs her of his lack of emotional feelings for her, she responds in a way that, in my opinion, is exactly the opposite of the way a woman today would respond, by literally telling him to lie to her. She tells him, `Learn to hide your insincerity so that I can yield without dishonor.' Aside from the fact that this shows that she would rather be bedded than loved, at least by Ponceludon, it also enhances the drama caused by his love for someone else, and his obvious feelings of guilt about sleeping with another woman. Ponceludon does not love her, but knows that she is capable of improving his chances of getting help from the king.

    Ponceludon, despite having sexual relations with Marquis de Bellegarde, the older upper class woman, is in love with a simpler, poorer woman named Mathilde. She develops very strong feelings for him as well, but she is engaged to a very old, very rich man. She is determined to remain engaged to him, even though he is currently married to another woman, so that he may finance her scuba diving interests. The fact that Ponceludon and Mathilde are both engaged in strikingly similar manipulative relationships makes their love for each other even more effective.

    There were dancing scenes later in the film where everyone wears masks and huge elaborate wigs, which demonstrated a dire need to be accepted. The fact that all of the wigs and masks worn in this scene were strikingly similar suggested that these people desired to be as much like everyone else as possible, and that individuality is discouraged. The men wore white powder on their faces, blush on their cheeks, and even distinct amounts of lipstick. Aside from being another way of illustrating conformity, it also poses a huge difference between then and now. In today's society, men who wear that much make-up are most often the ones who are actually trying NOT to fit in with the general population.

    One other thing that is worth mentioning is the fact that the exact words or topics spoken in the film are far less important than the way that they are said. Body language as well as things like costuming and make-up are far more important than the exact subjects that were spoken of. This was most effectively communicated to the audience by the fact that there were a few scenes where the French conversation was not subtitled. This forced the audience, particularly the English speaking audience, to focus more on the way the characters were speaking to each other rather than what exactly they were saying. This is very unusual, but is also noteworthy because it successfully furthers the meaning delivered by the film.
  • FilmLabRat8 April 2003
    This film is a real treat in its caracterization, plot, costuming, scenery, camerawork, everything! I just wish the translation were better - the French version of some of the dialogue was lost, not just because of language nuances but because of random omission of fairly important words and phrases. Malheureusement, I don't think reading the English does the wonderful film justice. Autrement, formidable!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    If life in high school was set in the 18th century French court, we would have "Ridicule," a movie about Gregoire Ponceludon (Charles Berling) who realizes that the best way to drain the swamps on his estate is not to ingratiate himself with the courtiers, but to insult them with one witticism after the other. Wit, a friend the Marquis de Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort) tells young Ponceludon, opens all doors and can win King Louis XVI's favor; and once you have the king's favor, he will give you whatever you want. Indeed, one comes away with the impression that the king's generosity towards the witty is so boundless that he seems oblivious to the reality that he is spending money that the state does not have. Only the finance minister knows how bad things are and he grumbles to Ponceludon that perhaps he could convince the king to stop spending so much money on his courtiers for the dignity of France. Well, as far as Louis XVI (Urbain Cancelier) is concerned, dignity can go to hell.

    Like all high schools, the French court is artificial, cruel, witty and a haven for endless sex. The courtiers subjected to ridicule are weak, insecure and tend articulate themselves rather badly. They could be popular courtiers who have misspoken, thereby providing an ambitious courtier with the opportunity to ridicule them. The women don't believe in love. They will have sex with any man who happens to be the most popular at any given time. When Abbe de Vilecourt (Bernard Giraudeau) falls into disfavor, Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant) turns to Ponceludon. She then finds another lover, when Ponceludon inadvertently ridicules her.

    Now all of this may seem very predictable, unless you were home schooled during your high school years, but it is entertaining most of the time in wicked sort of way. We enjoy hearing the witticism; we enjoy even more seeing people insulted, especially when it is the vile de Vilecourt. But this film also has a serious and a profound side as well. On being ridiculed, Ponceludon condemns the world of the courtier as a farce. It is not a witty remark. But Madame de Blayac realizes he is right. She realizes that she has been duped, because all her life was wasted on an endless struggle trying to be popular, pretty and charming. A life without love and indeed without meaning. It was not too late for Ponceludon, because he was still young and had only stayed in court for a few months. But it was too late for Madame de Blayac, because she had nothing else apart from that pointless life. Perhaps that explains her tears, when in her moment of victory Ponceludon leaves the court for good and the dancing resumes.

    I could go on about the film. At times it is boring, but on the whole director Patrice LeConte does an excellent job in maintaining our interest. The performances are good too, especially the one given by Fanny Ardant. Finally, the film has a brilliant baroque score which creates the atmosphere of a ruthless and uncompromising court. The sets and costumes are beautiful too, but what is decisive in films like these is excellent direction, a good screenplay and brilliant performances: this film has all three.
  • =G=11 April 2001
    "Ridicule" is a not-to-be-taken-seriously French period piece (circa 1780's) which tells of a young hydraulics engineer who seeks royal funds to drain foul marshes to protect peasants from disease. His problem is to work his way into the King's court where the witty repartee of aristocrats rules the day. The film is an excellent period production though a bit stilted, somewhat bland and lacking passion, and not as witty as one would expect a film about wit to be. Most filmgoers will likely be bored with the meager story and so-so humor. Recommended for devotees of Euro period flicks only.
  • n-mo16 September 2011
    Warning: Spoilers
    There is a lot to like about "Ridicule." Splendid costumes, gorgeous Versaillais architecture and painting, and a pretty historically accurate portrayal of the absurdity and the confusion playing out at the Versailles court on the eve of the Revolution (on the one hand, they will all maintain that they are devout Catholics; on the other hand, they court libertine philosophers and more or less openly engage in grotesquely immoral--often sexually charged--war games of wit). The premise is interesting, the acting is grand and the atmosphere is terrific.

    Where the movie loses points is in its philosophical moralizing. The film does not make it a point to distinguish the character of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from that of their courtiers. Although the film does not actually portray them doing anything they would not actually have done (they were, indeed, deeply ingrained into the life of their court), by not holding them out the film does give us the impression that they were every bit as trashy and apathetic as the courtiers (in fact, they were most certainly not) and that they deserved their ultimate lot in the French Revolution (and any historian even slightly to the right of Karl Marx agrees that they most certainly did not).

    Near the end of the film the protagonist, the Marquis de Malavoy, countryside aristocrat who has learned the court games simply in an attempt to petition Louis XVI for help with his land and for his feudal tenants, castigates the courtiers for their hypocrisy. He cites their invocation of Voltaire, a man "filled with compassion!" as evidence. But anyone who knows anything about Voltaire knows that he was quite the snob himself.

    Moreover, the ending, which implies that Malavoy, the compassionate aristocrat, now lives well in Revolutionary France, gives the false impression that it was his openness to liberalism that had permitted him to stay rather than go into exile. In actuality, it was precisely in places such as Malavoy's holdings, where feudal ties were strongest and aristocrats remained landed rather than absentee, that resistance to the revolution was also the strongest--and most tragic. Anyone ever hear of a place called "Vendée"? The people there stood in defense of their patriarchs, their Church and the House of Bourbon--and hundreds of thousands paid the ultimate price for not wanting to recognize a Parisian regime they regarded as criminal as having the right to unilaterally redo the physiognomy of their socio-political landscape.

    And speaking of physiognomy, let me just comment on the... ugly faces. I don't know whether it's the makeup, but Fanny Ardent looks as though her face might kill as humiliatingly as ridicule does. The court of Versailles must have been teaming with fresh flesh, and I'm not at all convinced a priest would break his vow of celibacy for the likes of her. And, "My bedroom is known to lead to the throne room"? Uh... yeah, THAT line really makes up in charm what she lacks in looks. Uh-huh. And Judith Godrèche, who is normally quite lovely, is done up just horribly... her face and hairdo are so tomboyish that it's a wonder she survives at a place like Versailles. And while the makeup on the men may be historically accurate, it is not applied in a very charismatic fashion, as though the filmmakers were trying to give us something to laugh at.

    The ambiance is good, but the script is disappointing and nauseating. I think one can do better for a quiet evening alone.
  • This movie is pretty to look at and well made, but I have always felt very indifferent from costume dramas--particularly those involving a lot of rich French aristos who spend all their time talking and congratulating themselves on their exceedingly high sense of self-importance. When I watched the old MGM film, MARIE ANTOINETTE, I found it to be dull and when I saw more recent films like DANGEROUS LIASONS, VALMONT and RIDICULE, I also thought they were awfully dull. Now I know many have enjoyed them and I wish them well, but these films all place so much emphasis on costumes, hair and the irrelevant trappings of extreme wealth. By the way, I am a history teacher and often I love historical films, but perhaps it's the "annoying American" in me that isn't particularly interested in noblemen and women--I much prefer films about REAL people--REAL people I can connect with. I am not saying that the vacuous people in these films aren't "real" but that it was sure hard to care about them or get into the films. In fact, I really think the best value in RIDICULE is illustrating just how worthless the aristos were in France and how ripe they were for revolution--sort of like a non-surreal and non-humorous version of a Buñuel film such as THE DISCRETE CHARM OF THE BOURGEIOSE.

    If you ask me, I'd much rather watch an old classic about the French Revolution, such as A TALE OF TWO CITIES or THE SCARLET PIMPERNELL--they're just a lot more interesting and I care much more about the characters.
  • I wanted to says "whoever lived by the word, would perish by the word' but among the many lessons Patrice Leconte's "Ridicule" taught me is that pun is regarded as the death of wit.

    "WIT ELUDES US SOMETIMES"

    In French, there are two kinds of wit: the repartee and the 'stairs' wit. One is the ability to come up with the right witty remark as self-defense, while the other always comes to mind, when we're 'going down the stairs' and then the flash of wit blinds us: "damn, that's what I should have said". The thrilling aspect of "Ridicule" is that it turns a rather benign theme into a life-and-death situation, when the hero's mission depends on his wit and being ridiculed would be his failure.

    "PEASANTS NOT ONLY FEED MOSQUITOES BUT ARISTOCRATS"

    The tag-line of Patrice Leconte's masterpiece magnificently contradicts a famous French saying, by stating that 'Ridicule can kill', literally and symbolically. Literally, because some remarks can knock down any person and follow him the rest of his life, while symbolically, it can make a social status collapse and undermine the realization of subsequent projects, no matter how noble and thoughtful they are. And the project in "Ridicule" belongs to a rural aristocrat, Gregoire Ponceludon de Malavoy, more than a gifted engineer, a decent man who cares for peasants, victims of mosquitoes-infested swamps in his region, the Dombes. Ponceludon needs money to drain the swamps, a costly project that only the King, fond on scientific innovations, can fund. The peasants' lives depend on Gregoire's ability to make his place in Versailles, in the King's Court, such a morally corrupted words that the stinks of the swamps seem more breathable.

    "I NEVER LIVED IT DOWN"

    To understand the violent nature inherent to this world where the word can be mightier than the sword, the film opens with quite a spectacular scene. A man comes to visit an elderly dying aristocrat: Mr. de Bleyac, confined in a chair, and then urinates on him, a late reply to a humiliating 'bon mot' uttered in the past. Ridicule is indeed the worst curse that can ever strike an aristocrat in Versailles. Bleyac happened to be Ponceludon's contact in Versailles, "You'll recognize him by his widow." said the Marquis de Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort), a doctor and eternal admirer (and not bad practicer) of wit and humor, and the widow is Fanny Ardant, magnificent as ever, as Madame de Bleyac, the powerful woman who can use her wits and charms to make any social ascension possible or not. The film is set in 1783, 6 years before French Revolution, when the liberal ideas of Voltaire and Montesquieu were on march, it's ironic that the very minds who were praising them couldn't see their own ends coming. The film works also as a slice of aristocratic life in its last breaths.

    "HONESTY AND WIT ARE SO RARELY UNITED"

    I've always been fascinated by historical movies set in the 18th Century, with all these flamboyant costumes and grandiloquent designs, it seems so unreal that such times ever existed, but I guess their value was to serve as a set-up for the most remarkable metamorphosis the Old World would know, before embracing modernity. Gregoire embodies this new generation, and it's not a hazard that he's befriended by Bellegarde, the doctor, who doesn't just admire the different uses of wit: quips, word-plays, retorts, paradoxes but also honesty and decency. He plays a central role in the film as he both teaches Gregoire and the viewers about the Courts' etiquette, the do's and don'ts, like never laughing to one's own joke, and never making puns. Bellegarde's moralilty affected the education of his own daughter, the beautiful Mathilde (Judith Godreche): a free-spirited woman fond of scientific experimentations, and avoiding by any means, the corruption of Versailles court. She's the total opposite of Mme de Bleyac and the mirror of Ponceludon's corrupting process.

    "WE'RE JUDGED BY THE COMPANY WE KEEP" "A MISJUDGEMENT, JUDAS KEPT EXCELLENT COMPANY"

    Under the mentor-ship of Bellegarde, Ponceludon reveals himself a most witty mind and an excellent match to the wittiest of all, L'Abbé de Villecourt, a corrupted abbot and protégé of Madame de Bleyac, Bernard Gireaudeau in a scene-stealing performance. "Beware of the abbot" warns Bellegarde "He's a snake. He watches in silence. When he speaks, it's too late." Indeed, an insult can take you at anytime and sometimes in the field of verbal sparring, the best defense is still the attack. "Ridicule" on that level, provides an abundance of verbal confrontations, reaching their pinnacle during a magnificent 'tournament of wit' meant to ridicule Ponceludon. One might lose a battle, but not the war, especially if he still has the last word.

    "THE SOUL OF WIT IS TO KNOW ONE'S PLACE"

    And this is only one of the layers that contribute to the film's greatness, with an extraordinary respect for the intelligence's viewer, "Ridicule" never takes its wit for granted but uses it to speak much more truthful statements about the way one conducts his own life. We can be our own enemies as sometimes, a beautiful moment in the sun can turn into a stormy disaster, simply with one unfortunate word. Any word said can be hold against its author, and some will learn this lesson the hard way.

    "VOLTAIRE WOULD HAVE WEPT"

    The film provides other unforgettable moments, deaf people proving that even the language of hands can make witty gestures, a suspenseful duel and a splendid climax. To Historical movie buffs and to French Language lovers, "Ridicule" is a must-see, a modern classic that deserved the Best Film César in 1996, and is so magnificently written that the fact that it didn't win a Cesar for Best Screenplay sadly fits the title.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Leconte followed this with Une Chance sur deux as if to emphasise his versatility and mastery of all genres. On the one hand an ultra modern piece involving two over-the-hill iconic 'hard' men taking on the highly organized Drug Barons with all the car chases, technology and explosions that go with that territory and on the other the ultra sophisticated world of Versailles where the biggest crime is to utter a sentence that falls flat. Out of a premise that finds a Nobleman caring about the peasantry enough to journey to the Court and attempt to gain the ear of the King in order to win Royal investment to underwrite an engineering project to drain marshland Leconte has concocted a confection to delight both the eye and the ear in a world where the ultimate goal is neither money or sex but the perfect epigram. There are four principals and all shine and if Fanny Ardant and Jean Rochefort come out marginally ahead of Charles Berling and Judith Godreche well, she IS drop-dead gorgeous and he IS an all-round consummate Actor's Actor. Not for everyone but even here the usual excuse of not speaking French is flimsy given the excellent subtitles on the DVD. A soufflé prepared exclusively with Faberge eggs.
  • I've seen this movie a couple of times and I think it is a great presentation of a different world (the world of Louis XVI).

    The wit and humour is great, although I saw it subtitled and the modest French I know helped a lot because the spoken language is a big part of the movie.

    Even has a happy ending!
  • thefan-24 May 1999
    It takes place in pre-revolutionary France "Where Louis-whoever ruled, but wit was king." The French have a long, long way to go in the wit department, if this movie is the best they can come up with. According to this movie, at any rate, their idea of "wit" is peeing on an elderly stroke victim who once insulted you, and such sparkling exchanges as:

    Courtier A: You're not as stupid as you look.

    Courtier B: That's the main difference between you and me.

    In the next scene, Courtier B is congratulated on his cleverness. Too bad Courtier A didn't come back with, "Are you suggesting that I AM as stupid as you look?" Then they'd've congratulated him instead.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    An engineer just before French revolution is trying to find his way up in the court. He has wits and guts but the game is bigger than his assumption.

    The subject of the film is very good but the story line is very trite, banal, old, done a 100 times etc etc. Hope you know what i mean. Engineer falls in love with one girl and a countess fancy him as her next best ticket to court. Movie becomes a yawn because of this 4000000 years old plot and loses its novelty after 20 minutes. Except for a few scenes movie has nothing to offer. Technically even subject is not very original because if you get to see it 'Vanity Fair', 'Shree 420', 'Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman' are based on the same concept but its a period drama and talks directly about cartoons of french courts so its funny. First scene is very powerful. I hope all french people did that on Louis 17th and his maniac wife. Back to film. Film doesn't hold any water. It goes haywire and becomes boring after 20 minutes. I wonder what this hoopla about 2 thumbs up three thumbs? Still!! rent it for the first scene.

    There are very few international films in which you are distracted by technical mistakes. This is one of those. Editing is very bad. Childish mistakes like a man looking in two directions. Camera work is artsy and very distracting. For example Camera is moving from a man's point of view while he is riding a horse but the swiftness of the camera is of airplane. Its worse than amateurish. I couldn't identify characters even until the end of the film. Prettly lame. All the actors are also just OK. In my opinion its very passable. Rent it watch the first scene and send it back. Don't bother about the rest because you know everything already.By the way why 90% of the poster is Judith Godrèche? I think thats just another inconsistency. Its like putting Karen Alens pic on the raiders of the lost arc poster instead of Ford. 7/10.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I picked up this French film from the library knowing nothing about it. The first scene was shocking, and I didn't know whether I was up for it. I'm not squeamish or grossed out by many things. I mean, I've seen another Frenchie called "Irreversible," but it wasn't THAT kind of shock. Okay I'm going to ruin it. A guy urinates on another guy, and it shows it...pee and all. Anyway, I stuck it out (no pun intended), and the movie turned out to be funny and moving in the end. The acting, writing, and visual style were all great. If you can find it, give it a watch. It's a good example of French humor, which is far different than American humor and far more enlightening.
  • onepotato225 September 2006
    Add my voice to those who like this fim and who find Fanny Ardent wonderful. But I think the transformation of Ponceledon du Malroy from someone I thought was at best awkward looking (or homely) to a refined and yes attractive man throroughly convincing. By the time he's finished I no longer considered him homely. The sub-titles of this movie are quite an achievement, managing at one point to rhyme, make the same point and deliver the punchline on the right beat - no small feat. It takes small hits over historical revisionism (uppity female nymphette-scientists?), and the re-use of a ruse mentioned in the early half of the film as the downfall of the protagonist.

    I don't understand a single reviewer who says the film is hysterical. I doubt you'll laugh out loud once. It's not that kind of movie. But it's pleasures are plentiful. And it's aimed squarely at adult viewers.
  • 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
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