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The Emperor's New Clothes (PG)
FilmFour/Paramount Classics
Official Site
Director: Alan Taylor
Producer: Uberto Pasolini
Written by: Kevin Molony, Alan Taylor, Herbie Wave; from the novel The Death Of Napoleon by Simon Leys
Cast: Ian Holm, Iben Hjelje, Nigel Terry, Tim McInnerny, Hugh Bonneville


This is exactly the sort of arty exercise that you expect serious actors to try our patience with from time to time. Having just recently had to endure The Triumph Of Love , which was very much of a piece with this movie, and I am not disposed to be charitable toward The Emperor’s New Clothes . I know the budgets of such movies are quite modest, nowhere near the price of your standard summer blockbuster, but it pisses me off when these “little films” are as mediocre as their costly cousins. Yes, yes, they can’t all be gems. The Emperor’s New Clothes isn’t so much precious, as it is pointless. Ian Holm is short, solid, and a damn good actor, so I suppose it was inevitable that he’d wind up in front of the camera as Napoleon again (see Time Bandits ) one day.

In The Emperor’s New Clothes , Napoleon has schemed with his handlers to find someone to impersonate him so that he can leave St. Helena. With extraordinary good luck, they happen upon the peasant Eugene (also Holm), a dead ringer for the Emperor. From here on, we get a combination of The Prince And The Pauper and any movie you can think of where an understudy gets thrust onto center stage. Napoleon hotfoots it back to France, where, unrecognized, he must make his way through life like the rest of us mere mortals. Meanwhile, Eugene, who at first was hopelessly boorish and obsequious, begins to get the hang of imperiousness.

There’s no denying that Holm is very good. This is the Holm show all the way, who’s house? Holm’s house, but that’s about all is has to offer. That’s not an inconsiderable talent there, but it doesn’t carry the movie. Iben Hjelje ( Mifune, High Fidelity ) has a sizable but ill-defined role as a device—a widow with whom the returned Emperor takes up. She and her boy are threatened with the loss of their fruit-selling business after her husband dies. The scenes where Napoleon devises a campaign to resurrect the business and addresses “the troops” are among the most worthwhile moments in the movie.

Okay, but then what? Well, we get to observe the evolutions of characters of Eugene and Napoleon. Then, back on St. Helena, Eugene has a fit of apoplexy and dies, and the world mourns the death of Napoleon. Of course we know that the rightful Emperor is alive and well and living in Paris. What will he do? Is there, within every man, the potential to be a citizen or an emperor, as the circumstances demand? After you’ve been jefe, is there any other life worth living? Fortunately, you can get answers to these and other questions without sitting through The Emperor’s New Clothes .

—Roxanne Bogucka


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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Wait for video rental.

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