23 December 2005 | guy-bellinger
Both funny and serious, but a bit too vulgar
When you look at the actress playing Armelle, an ordinary speech therapist inadvertently married to a prince, when you consider her shapeless body, her unappealing face, her unbecoming clothing style you just can't believe she is the same Valérie Lemercier who found the energy necessary to write this story, to convince producers to give her enough money to make this lavish-looking movie, to allow her to film it in three different countries, with a stellar cast, including Catherine Deneuve in a royal but self-mocking role, and, to crown it all, featuring herself as the leading lady...! But when the ugly duckling starts rebelling against the silly etiquette that stifles her and against the falseness masked by fairy tale appearances, slowly blossoming into a slick, elegant, attractive, self-assertive young lady, you suddenly realize that Valérie Lemercier is not cast against type. Just like real life humorist Valérie Lemercier, Armelle has become go ahead, dynamic and capable, refusing to be manipulated, commenting on her social environment with biting humor.
"Palais Royal!", her third work as a director, is a comedy, but there is more to it than that. It is also - and most of all- a sharp satire of life at court, denouncing its silly etiquette as well as all the meanness, the falseness and the hidden vulgarity inherent in such regimes.In great part inspired by the doomed destiny of Diana, princess of Wales, the film makes the viewer understand better the Via Dolorosa Diana had to go through before her untimely death. But, thanks to comedy, Lemercier does it avoiding the heavy-handed pathos of a soap.
The actors are all excellent. I will single out a few, like Catherine Deneuve, perfect as the callous queen, Lambert Wilson as the new king not exactly killing himself at his royal task, Michel Aumont as the would-be dignified chief of protocol and Michel Vuillermoz as pathetic prince Alban, ruled out from the throne for "testicule reasons".
The only shortcoming I would deplore is the excessive vulgarity Lemercier indulges in. Of course she means to expose this defect among people who have exquisite manners while on official duty and who let themselves go as soon as they are away from the limelight, but this viewer feels that she derives pleasure in being graphic. Such complacency slightly reduces the impact of the satire. Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch who have often been accused of the same leaning for vulgarity knew where to draw the line though.
Whatever, all in all, a film well worth seeing.