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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Power, Intrigue and Great Hair Meet at Louvre

Claude Berri's movie "La Reine Margot" proves once and for all that the Louvre was more intriguing 400 years ago than it is today. Or at least more bloody.

The film, based on the book by Alexandre Dumas, is a violent, seductive thriller set at the end of the 16th century that keeps you on edge until the closing credits. Berri tells a great fairy tale, and does it with verve, packing plenty of blood, sex and carousing into the 2 1/2 hour picture.

In order to smooth the religious differences in France at the time, the king's mother, Marie de Medicis (Virna Lisi), forces her daughter Margot (Isabelle Adjani) to marry Henri, the protestant King of Navarre (Daniel Auteuil). Charles IX (Jean-Hugues Anglade) rules France, but he is a weak, nutty monarch, manipulated easily by Marie and his dastardly brother Anjou (Pascal Greggory). Margot and Henri quickly realize that they are pawns in an evil power game controlled by Marie and Anjou, and despite their differences -- they do not love each other at all -- the newlyweds agree to an alliance. Each needs a friend badly. Their lives -- and the life of the king -- are in constant danger. Having married Margot, Henri de Navarre is third in line for the throne, and Marie cannot stand that. She devises ingenious plans to poison him, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Margot, who has an appetite for men, falls for the courier La Molle (Vincent Perez), a protestant from Navarre. Ultimately her mother forbids her to leave the Louvre.

With friendships, betrayals and all kinds of palace intrigues, the machinations are sometimes hard to follow. But they are spiced with vividly staged battle scenes -- and enough spilled blood to float the Spanish Armada. Occasionally the red is necessary and subtle, such as when the king is attacked by a wild boar. Often, though, it is just too much, and ultimately Berri's camera makes one too many visits to the morgue.

The strength of the movie is the acting. Virna Lisi won the prize for best supporting actress at the 1993 Cannes film festival for her role as Marie de Medicis. She and Pascal Greggory do a fabulous job being vile; by the end of the movie, your skin crawls whenever you see their mischievous faces. Jean-Hugues Anglade, who starred in "Betty Blue," is convincingly bizarre as Charles IX. In the title role, Isabelle Adjani turns in a charismatic performance, though she is often eclipsed by Lisi and Greggory. Daniel Auteuil is a fine actor, but for some reason in this movie he is more reminiscent of a Monty Python character than a musketeer.

Among other things, "La Reine Margot" is a great hair movie. The courtesans are brilliantly coiffed, and if you pay attention, you will notice that every haircut is different. It took five years to make this picture, and it is clear that much of that time was spent making sure that Isabelle Adjani's strands of hair fell across her cheek in just the right way.

That might seem silly, but such attention to detail is what makes "La Reine Margot" so rich. The film transports the audience completely to a different time and place, which is what good storytelling is all about.

"La Reine Margot," which premiered this week in Moscow and St. Petersburg, will open at Moscow theaters beginning Sept. 28 with, alas, a voice-over in Russian.

French film lovers who crave their movies in the original language are in luck, however. The Illuzion movie theater is showing not one, but three French films without voice over next week, starting with Eric Rohmer's "A Tale of Winter" (1992) on Monday. Two golden oldies, "The Foggy Shore" (1938) and "Pepe Le Moko" (1934) will follow on Thursday.