lunes, 6 de mayo de 2013

A Year of Reading Proust: Vatel

In the second volume of In Search of Lost Time, Within a Budding Grove, there's a wonderful scene where a diplomatic, the Marquis de Norpois, discusses his vain opinions on literature and politics. The political events described are the same ones that led to the Great War. The opinions entertained by the various characters attending the banquet are tragically comical to a modern reader. It's obvious that Proust was trying to mock a certain social stratum. Curiously, the book was written before the war began, although its publication was delayed until it ended.

During this scene, a famous French cook, François Vatel, is likened to the wise Françoise, the ever-present servant of the Narrator's family. As someone in the Goodreads group had recommended a film on Vatel and knowing that Proust wrote and rewrote every word of this colossal novel, I decided to explore this reference and watch the film.

Vatel (here's the IMDb page) was released in 2000 and had a great cast: Uma Thurman, Gerard Depardieu and Tim Roth play the main characters, and their acting is superb. The plot is quite a slim one: In 1671, the penniless Prince du Condé needs to impress the King Louis XIV to gain his favour, and he asks François Vatel to arrange the feasts and entertainments for the King's three-day stay at du Condé's state. Vatel falls in love with one of the King's favourites, Madame de Montausier, who reciprocates his feelings but is determined to climb the social ranks. Things get ugly when the Marquis de Lauzun discovers this relationship, since he lusts after Madame de Montausier and has the power to decide Vatel's fate. See the trailer:

The film wasn't exactly loved by the critics, but I found it engaging and visually stunning. Some bits of dialogue were also great and the film is almost fully historically accurate. I also prefer the explanation the film gives for Vatel's suicide. Historically, he was said to have suicided because of a delay of some fish delivery needed for the final King's feast. That is an interesting cause for a suicide, to say the least. 

I recommend it. If you don't like French court intrigues, at least you'll enjoy an hour and a half of pure aesthetic bliss.

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