It’s felt like there haven’t been many interesting frock flicks lately, maybe because of the just-ended writers’ strike and still-going actors’ strike? So I thought I’d force myself to go watch some of the 18th-century films that I’ve ignored, and the first one that springs to mind is French film That Night in Varennes (1982). I’ve heard it described as a classic art film, and to stream it in the U.S. you have to go to The Criterion Channel, if that tells you anything, but somehow I just knew I would be bored. Well, reader, I hate to give things away but, I was bored!
The film tells the fictional story of a group of people traveling by coach from Paris to somewhere on the eastern border of France, along the same route/just behind the royal family when they tried to escape the French Revolution. In 1791, King Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, the royal children, and several attendants disguised themselves and snuck out of the Tuileries Palace, where they were being held essentially captive. They were trying to reach Montmédy, where royalist troops were waiting, and hopefully begin a counter-revolution. However, they traveled more slowly than expected, missed meeting up with various soldiers who were supposed to coordinate with them, and were eventually recognized in the town of Varennes — and then marched back to Paris. It was a major turning point in the Revolution, as it was their one attempt to flee and it made the French public convinced the royals couldn’t be trusted/were working against the Revolution.
Okay, so back to the film! It starts with a famous writer visiting a brothel, then the rest is the journey from Paris in a coach. People get in and out and sometimes travel in another coach, but it’s mostly the same core characters. They talk about the Revolution, the royals, their lives, etc. IT’S BORING. I really really tried to watch the whole thing, but at 150 minutes and two sittings, I finally gave up. Maybe it gets riveting at the end! I’ll never know. Maybe you love talk-y movies where nothing really happens! Then maybe this is the film for you! I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if this had been a film about the actual royals, but they’re only discussed, never seen on screen (except maybe the king at the very end).
The costumes are very well done, and they should be, because Italian designer Gabriella Pescucci designed them. And luckily the people get out at inns and various other moments, so you do get to see their entire outfits from several angles. But because everything happens over the course of one journey, they’re all in the same clothes for the entire time.
So, since I don’t have much to say about the film other than “nice costumes, zzzz,” let’s look at each of the main characters and what they’re wearing and then call it good. Okay? Okay!
The main character is Nicolas Edmé Restif de la Bretonne (Jean-Louis Barrault), a real-life writer who chronicled Paris and, according to this film, was enough of a lech that he molested his adult daughter in a “what fun!” sort of way. He visits a brothel, then gets excited to Record History (as that was what a lot of his writing was about). He wears boring clothes and has scraggy hair.
An aging Casanova (Marcello Mastroianni) is traveling in his own carriage but joins the party. His carriage is probably the most interesting thing in the film, but I’ve already put enough work into this slog. He’s VERY into reminiscing about his past and less about getting it on nowadays. I did like that even I could tell he had an Italian accent as he spoke French! Despite being way past his prime, the ladies are all still strrrrrangely attrrrrracted to him.
Costume-wise, he’s in all-cream; he wears far too many pieces and that and his crusty makeup make it clear he’s way past his prime.
The resident hottie is Countess Sophie de la Borde (Hanna Schygulla), who has a major hard-on for the royal family in an overly-committed hero worship sort of way. She’s got the great lévite I’ve discussed previously, plus a fab hat:
One thing I thought was interesting is that her striped underlayer isn’t just a petticoat and stomacher, it’s a full-sleeved bodice:
American “Founding Father” Thomas Paine (Harvey Keitel), who’s down with the people but knows the French are doing it wrong, is along for the ride. I am almost positive Keitel’s dialogue was dubbed.
Monsieur Jacob (Jean-Claude Brialy), a stressed-out hairdresser, is probably the best dressed guy because he’s foppy and gets STRIPES:
Madame Adélaïde Gagnon (Andréa Ferréol), a bored widow, gets a nice riding habit-y outfit with STRIPES and another great hat:
Virginia Capacelli (Laura Betti), an Italian opera singer, wears a weird take on a robe à la française:
Then you have some minor characters, including:
There you go. I’ve done my homework. More Obligation Reviews forthcoming!
Do you love That Night in Varennes? Want to explain the excitement I missed? Go for it in the comments!