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 .