Gothic oddity
3 August 2001
Jean Cocteau co-writes the screenplay and plays the briefly seen title role, but his influence is all over the place. After a creepy beginning heavy on the German Expressionism, it settles into a leisurely Bronte-style romantic cauldron, with a quadrangle of post-Napoleon Era youths in a French village battling class distinctions that get in the way of their romantic yearnings, which, interestingly, seem largely based on whoever is the most inaccessible. Subplot involves an old local kook who may or may not be Louis XVI's missing heir, and hovering over everything is the mystery of that crazy old nobleman who disappeared in the dilapidated local castle, where there may be a hidden treasure. The answer comes in a moment of jaw-dropping comic horror, but is almost an anti-climactic footnote in this story that is far from being resolved. Even further along is a stunning somnambulist sequence that has to be seen to be believed. Oddly enough, every loose end of this scattered tale is tied together by the happy conclusion. Certainly a piece of cinema from the distant past, but unlike anything you've ever seen from the English speaking world. I'd be stretching it to call this classic cinema, but it's visually exquisite and if you're in the mood for something unusual, it's a treat.
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