"The Princess of Montpensier" Is Bartered for a Titular Title

The finest Western you'll see this year is set in aristocratic 16th-century France, in the heat of Counter-Reformation. Mélanie Thierry's father barters her for the titular title, marrying her off to Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet's shy, pained prince — instead of her heart's first choice, Gaspard Ulliel's Duke de Guise. De Guise keeps chasing after the wedded princess, as do the Duke d'Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz) and the film's calm center, philosopher-warrior Count de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson). Director Bertrand Tavernier applies athletic Steadicam to filthy melees and crossed dueling swords, conveying the heft of steel and crush of close combat. The action is remarkable also for its revelation of character and moral dimension. The setting always serves the performers rather than vice versa — though the film is also greatly enhanced by the costuming, the rugged French countryside photographed in outdoor-adventure CinemaScope; and Philippe Sarde's baroque-tribal score, its martial and romantic poles matching a tale of love (corrupted) and war (pointless).

 
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