Mademoiselle de Joncquières is a sumptuous costume drama of court intrigue, revenge, and moral turpitude is what I hoped for, and that is what I got. Anyone who ever saw 'Dangerous liaisons' back in the day will be familiar with this sort of tale, but what this movie lacks in glamour compared with that film is more than makes up for in elegant taste and style.
For a good while now, I have despaired of the French film industries lurch towards populist trite sentiment and away from its reputation for sophisticated thought-provoking artistic films. This then is an echo of past glories, and just maybe it will provoke a rethink, although, sadly, I doubt it.
The plot is taken from a classic French novel and concerns a Count who has taken to hanging around the country mansion of a wealthy Duchess with a determination to have her succumb to his charms. Eventually she does. However, instead of revelling in his conquest, our Count wearies of her and her weakness, seeing as she was fully aware of his reputation as a bed-hopper.
He is up front about his mood and they agree end the relationship but to remain friends. Meanwhile, deep inside she is livid, as well as heartbroken, and so decides to play a cruel revenge on him by tricking him into desiring a supposedly chaste young woman, who actually turns out to be anything but.
We can see the plot unfolding, and, despite the count being a likeable rogue, we are happy to see him fall into her trap. However, the Duchess, and us, are in for more surprise than we expected.
The acting here is a delight; Very understated, and done with a joyous relish.The dialogue is witty and sophisticated but never for the sake of it. We, as audience, understand the vagaries of our own passions and the contradictions of love, rivalry, pride, and vanity, so there is nothing here a normal viewer could not grasp. I love that about this film. It doesn't spoon-feed but neither does it become esoteric.
As for the filming.. well, in contrast to the recent costume drama 'The Favourite' this does not indulge in fancy camera angles and showy updates of the genre. Instead it plays the filming straight and the movie benefits from its unobtrusiveness. The only night scene is while the Count is wrestling with the knowledge that he has been duped and that others have been wantonly used to play the trick out. This seems like a simple tonal device but movie-making does not have to be reinvented; It is best served when that just feels like a natural feature. Why re-invent the wheel (?)
At the Sunday morning screening I attended there were only seven of us present. This was a shame I felt. I contrasted this with the full house for the latest Tarantino which (despite possessing a swagger of movie chutzpah) is devoid of subtlety, resonance, and emotional depth, and the Dutch film De Dirigent which the local audience loved but was in effect a Mickey Mouse movie compared to this delightfully crafted French delicacy.