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Triumph Of Love (PG-13)
Paramount Classics
Official Site
Director: Clare Peploe
Producer: Bernardo Bertolucci
Written by: Clare Peploe w/Marilyn Goldin & Bernardo Bertolucci; from the play La Triomphe De L’Amour by Marivaux
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Sir Ben Kingsley, Fiona Shaw, Rachael Sterling, Jay Rodan

Rating: out of 5

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


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