Cannes Day 6: The strange tale of ‘Marguerite & Julien’

You have to hand it to the French. Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to love and passion.

“Marguerite & Julien,” a story of children who grow up loving each other and begin a passionate but brief life together as adults, has all the markings of a 17-century romance: beautiful costumes, castles, gorgeous actors, sweepingly beautiful music, dramatic cinematography.

But as Marguerite and Julien discover, society rejects their love. They’re brother and sister.

Dad, who’s the Lord of Tourlaville, does not approve of the budding romance between the brother and sister. So he sends the brother (Jeremie Elkaim) off to boarding school in various European countries. But when he returns, it’s obvious that the love is still there, and that he’s ready to take it to the next level with his sister (Anais Demoustier).

So Dad intervenes, and forces Marguerite into a marriage with a nasty nobleman who carouses with prostitutes and beats poor Marguerite. In the dark of night, Julien rescues her and the two flee through the woods for a ship to England. But they stop a lot along the way to make love in the leaves.

The nobleman husband is not amused and sends out the hounds. Oh dear.

Director Valerie Donzelli makes strange choices throughout the film. And even if you were inclined to get wrapped up in the romance, which she clearly is trying to portray as timeless, then her aesthetics are way off. We see a 1965 Mustang, a helicopter, and all sorts of modern gadgets throughout the movie. And it takes away very much from atmosphere. It’s clear that she’s trying to make the previously mentioned “timeless” statement, and she wants us to see the story as “beyond morality,” as she says in her director’s statement in the official Cannes program.

But it’s just downright odd and doesn’t work.

I know my last few posts about Cannes have sounded negative, and I’m not sure whether I’m being cranky or whether these movies really are as seriously flawed as I believe. I think it’s the latter. But I’m sure other critics will have differing opinions.

Maybe tomorrow will be better. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve will present the Mexican drug cartel story “Sicario.” I have high hopes.

But to end on a positive note, “Carol” and “Son of Saul” are outstanding.


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