Marivaux’s play, La Triomphe De L’Amour was
first performed in Paris in 1732. Clare Peploe and
her husband, Bernardo Bertolucci, saw a version produced
by Martin Crump for the Almeida Theatre Company and
fell in love with it. There’s always a danger to this. I’m
almost tempted to say that, when a filmmaker feels this sort
of infatuation, she should sit down with her head between
her knees until the sensation passes. In a lifetime of movie-going
I’ve been happier with movies adapted from short stories than
movies adapted from novels, and movies adapted from novels
more than those made from plays. There’s an advantage, I think,
to having to create, de novo, a look-and-feel for the story
you’re going to tell. And there’s a distinct disadvantage
to adapting a play you’ve seen in performance. Sometimes people
fall in love with a whole—the theater space, the costumes,
the set, the actors, and the play itself—that will
not reproduce well for the screen.
The Triumph Of Love is just such a movie, flogging
a story of assumed identities so ridiculous that it wouldn’t
fool a three-year-old child in an uber-stagey production with
such a high level of thespianship that you feel vaguely boorish
for not liking it. But dislike it I did, and heartily, and
most especially for being a cut-rate Twelfth Night.
The story opens with a giggling Princess Aspasie (Sorvino)
and her handmaid Corinne (Sterling) unlacing their
elaborate bodices and farthingales in a swaying coach. When
the vehicle halts, they emerge as the young dandies Phocion
(Sorvino) and Hermidas (Sterling). Their mission: To right
the wrong done to the true sovereign, young Agis (Rodan)
whose throne was wrongfully usurped by Aspasie’s father when
Agis was but a babe in arms. (You need look no further for
evidence of the pernicious influence of this movie than to
see that it evokes the use of phrases such as “but a babe
in arms”.) Aspasie’s mission isn’t all noble disinterest;
she spied on Agis at the swimming hole one day and fell hard
for his six-pack and buns of steel. So why the disguises?
Because since being orphaned, Agis has been raised by Rationalist
siblings Hermocrates (Kingsley), a philosopher, and
Leotine (Shaw), a scientist. Hermocrates has taught
the lad to eschew womankind and to despise romantic love.
Now for reasons that make no sense at all, Aspasie presents
herself as new-best-friend Phocion to Agis; as Aspasie-in-drag
to Hermocrates; and as ardent lover Phocion to Leotine. Even
setting aside the here-one-minute, gone-the-next accent issues
and the wholly unconvincing deepening of her voice, Sorvino’s
transformation into a young man just doesn’t work. Maybe it
works if you’re in the theater, sitting way back in the cheap
seats, but on screen it’s just embarrassing.
Further overwrought strivings include pummeling us with very
good music (from Don Giovanni, Les Fetes D’Hebe, Les Indes
Galantes) obviously chosen to reinforce how highbrow the
proceedings are and an editing style so inappropriate that
I thought I was having a series of mini-strokes. It looks
like editor Jacopo Quadri chose to drop out several
frames from time to time, for reasons I cannot guess.
Needless to say, everything gets sorted out in the end. Gender
is properly established and justice is done. Like Twelfth
Night. And then there’s a song, also like Twelfth Night,
except with all the actors gathered in modern dress.
I can think of no reason to watch this and no audience for
it except French lit students who are too slack to just read
the play. And they’ll be sorry.
— Roxanne Bogucka