The late Patrice Chéreau’s 159-minute director’s cut of “Queen Margo,” a lavish, sensual spectacle immersed in the bloody chaos of 16th century France, has been newly restored for its 20th anniversary.
Catholic Marguerite de Valois (the ethereally beautiful Isabelle Adjani), is forced by her beloved oldest brother (and likely former lover) King Charles IX (Jean-Hugues Anglade) to wed King Henri de Navarre (Daniel Auteuil), a Hugenot, as a measure to stanch the profuse bleeding of the Wars of Religion and reunite the country.
But the harmony is a smokescreen orchestrated by the Queen Mother/Regent, Catherine de Médicis (Virna Lisi), who is plotting the ultraviolent St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which will overwhelm Paris six days after the nuptials, and which she views as the beginning of a process to install her favorite son, Anjou (Pascal Greggory) on the throne. (Catherine appears so pallid and sunken that it seems she’s also the mother of “The Scream.”)
Margot is transformed by the massacre, leaves the brutal brothers she loves, loses her true love, the pure Protestant La Môle (Vincent Perez) to the holy war, and rejecting greed and pride, frees herself and embracing compassion, joins Henri de Navarre, the husband she doesn’t love, but knows to be just, on the side of the oppressed, and who will bring peace and reconciliation to France and reign as King Henri IV.
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.
Screenwriter Danièle Thompson recommended Alexandre Dumas’ novel, “Queeen Margot” to Chéreau. He was eager to work with her, read it and agreed that they should adapt Dumas’ story, reworking it so that Margot became the central character, and a role suited for Isabelle Adjani. During the several years of writing and then repeatedly reducing the budget, Chéreau had doubts about the feasibility of the project. In an interview in 1994 he said, “I think I never believed the movie would ever be made!” But Thompson added, “And I never believed we wouldn’t make it!”
“Queen Margot” will open Friday May 9 at Film Forum for a one-week run. Not to be missed. Consider making it an unconventional double feature and see “Ida,” also at Film Forum.