The Cohen Film Collection’s new 4K restoration of Patrice Chereau‘s 159-minute director’s cut of Queen Margot (1994) opens for a week-long run at Film Forum in New York before heading to Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Columbus.
The film “opens in 1572, a decade into religious wars between the reigning Roman Catholics and the Huguenots (French Protestants),” writes Aaron Cutler in the Voice. “To make peace, King Charles IX (played by Jean-Hugues Anglade) has arranged a marriage between his sister Marguerite, or Margot (Isabelle Adjani), and the Huguenot King Henry of Navarre (Daniel Auteuil). However, the siblings’ widowed and spidery mother, Queen Catherine de Medici (Virna Lisi), has made other plans: Less than a week after the wedding, she orchestrates a massacre of the Huguenots on St. Bartholomew’s Day. The death of thousands of Henry’s people suddenly thrusts him into planning how to survive, and bluntly forces Margot to choose between her birth family and her spouse.”
“Swords open necks,” writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York, “wounds spurt crimson rivers, and clothes are caked in muck (you can practically smell the stench). It’s a horrifying and strangely carnal spectacle—imagine a Gallic-history encyclopedia written by Clive Barker—that’s merely a prelude to the slaughter’s fallout…. Chéreau makes us hyperaware of the literal meat of human existence—the deep-rooted longing for companionship and the visceral lust for survival that can be cut short with the flick of an aristocrat’s hand…. Death seems to linger in every inch of the frame, yet the film lives and breathes like few others.”
In 2010, Roderick Heath suggested that Queen Margot “had a swift influence on subsequent gritty historical movies, like Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth (1998), in bringing gangster movie intrigue and cutting-edge murk into the genre. It also represented a high-water mark of rowdy ambition in the French period drama, in the years immediately following the smashing success of Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1990) and waning ever since…. And yet Chereau’s vivid, bloody spin on Alexandre Dumas’s novel is a curious mix of impulses and ideas that does not, finally, entirely cohere, and it’s not quite as good a film as I remember.”
On the other hand, Robin Holland, who’s photographed both the late Chereau and screenwriter Danièle Thompson: “A fever dream of brocade, pomp, forest hunts, endless blood, poisonings, filth, sweat, couplings, beheadings, mud and Anjou’s lewd, sexy mouth, Queen Margot is both true to and transcends its period to hold a mirror up to ours.”
Adjani gives “perhaps her most commanding performance,” writes John Oursler in the L. “This new print is a must-see on the big screen.”
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