The Libertine (2000) is a French comedy movie about Denis Diderot, 18th-century writer of THE “Encyclopédie,” which was a major publication of the Enlightenment. This film — which stars Vincent Perez as Diderot and Fanny Ardant as a painter — touches on these ideas, but mostly recasts Diderot as the ultimate Casanova and philosophy as rebellious fun. I’m still on my 18th-Century Quest — to watch as many 18th century-set films as possible — so I figured it was time to start this one up.
The film was made in 2000 and so reads a bit dated, particularly in its portrayal of different ethnicities — as that ties in to costumes, more on that below. It also felt dated to me in its portrayal of Diderot as a sex-crazed intellectual who basically wants to bone everyone, but maybe that’s because the older I get, the less I am charmed by f*ckboys.
But, if you want to see Vincent Perez do full-front nudity, this is your film! He’s very relaxed, if you know what I mean, so I’m not sure if it’s the world’s most exciting thing.
There’s also a WHOLE LOT of pig and shockingly little mud!
The film takes place over only a couple of days, so it does that annoying thing where everyone wears the same outfit for the entire thing. The costumes were designed by Olivier Bériot (The King Is Dancing, Fanfan, Bandidas, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, and the upcoming Franklin). Things seem to be set in the 1780s, maybe — it’s all 18th-century light and the hair seems to switch eras depending on the character.
Fanny Ardant is a Prussian painter who has arrived to paint Diderot. She wears a riding habit in a peach stripe with lots of silver trim, plus a burnt-orange waistcoat:
Riding habits were super popular across the 18th century and particularly in the 1780s:
But the metallic lace seems much earlier and reminds me of this 1730s jacket:
Vincent Perez is Diderot, philosopher, writer, and art critic, who here is running an underground printworks for his Encyclopedia (which has been outlawed) and shagging ALL the ladies — and trying to shag Ardant’s character.
He spends about 2 minutes in a wig:
He wears a blue linen (?) jacket with a little bit of gold trim and darker blue breeches, plus all the scraggly hair you could ever want:
Other characters include:
The film uses several Orientalist themes, and not in very thoughtful way. First, the chateau at which this whole party takes place has a bathhouse that is literally staffed by people of color who are there to massage and provide sexual favors to the owners and their guests. It’s all played as “ooo fun and erotic and exotic!”
Then there’s an Orientalist party at the end of the film, which at least references a real trend of the era, even if some elements of the costumes are extra fantastical:
I can’t give the film any kind of recommendation, given the blatant racism and my lack of enthusiasm for people who think with their junk, but the costuming is decent, if unvaried (except for that end party).
Have you seen The Libertine? What did you think?