Wednesday, July 05, 2017

La Révolution française (1989)--The French Revolution

(Movie Review)

Why I Watched This Movie
So, unfortunately, the story of how I came to watch this movie is going to start with a confession: I spend way too much time on Youtube.

Regular readers already know this, of course.  If it wasn't already self-evident from the amount of Youtube Videos I link to on this blog, I've also overtly confessed to worries about Internet and TV addiction in some of my past posts.

It remains my ambition to someday get my viewing habits under control, and live a normal life.

In the meantime, however, I'm going to review this movie I saw on Youtube.

Despite the fact that I personally watched this movie off of the small screen, I'm still counting it as part of my Movie Review Project because it is a real movie.  It got a theatrical release and everything back in 1989.

But I just stumbled upon it while surfing Youtube.


I never heard of this movie before it popped up on my Youtube page, but I've dug around a bit on the Internet, and apparently this movie was released in 1989 to celebrate the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
Somewhat surprisingly, they decided to go for an international cast.  So, for example, Sam Neill plays Lafayette  , Peter Ustinov plays Mirabeau, Jane Seymour plays Marie Antionette, etc.
Apparently the film originally got an international release in English.  (I'm not sure how that worked--did they dub the lines, or did they record two version of every scene?)  But the only version that anyone on the Internet is able to track down nowadays is the French version with English subtitles.

The film is very long.  Apparently it was long even in its theatrical release, but for the TV version they added back in all the cut material, and it's now over 5 hours long.  It's now broken into two parts:  les Années lumière (Years of Hope) and les Années terribles (Years of Rage).

My Viewing Experience

So, as a history nerd, and someone who's always been interested in the French Revolution, naturally I was salivating when I realized what I had stumbled across.

A few years ago, I had included The French Revolution on my list of real historical events that I wanted to see get the HBO treatment television mini-series treatment.

This was the next best thing.  At 5 hours long, it was essentially half an HBO season.  Close enough.

But it was 5 hours long!  I couldn't watch a movie that long on my tiny computer screen.  So, reluctantly, I clicked away.

But this movie haunted me for a couple of days.  I was really curious as to how they would portray all the different characters and events that I had read about in books.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me.  "I'll just watch 10 minutes a day," I said.  "It won't be so bad for my eyes that way."
But then, once I got started, I had a hard time pulling myself away.
In the end, I ended up watching the whole thing in about 5 days.

The Review
If you like history, you will love this movie.  It is extremely faithful to the real historical events.

If you don't like history, you will absolutely hate this movie.  Because the movie is rushing to fill in all the events of the French Revolution, it doesn't have time to develop the character or motivation of any of its characters.  Consider yourself warned--there is nothing in this movie that would interest anyone who isn't a history geek.

As for me, I'm a history geek, so I absolutely loved this movie.  All 5 hours of it.  I was completely fascinated from beginning to end.

The film is, however, rushing way too fast to get through everything.  But I suppose you can't fault it for that.  There's a lot to get through.

5 hours seems like a long time, but when you consider all the different phases the French Revolution went through between 1789 and 1794, there is a lot of material to get through here.  And the film doesn't have time to linger.  We briefly get one shown one scene in one part of Paris, and then we're rushing off to somewhere else in Paris to document the next part of the revolution.

In a way, this is perfect for the modern short attention span.  The way the film keeps moving relentlessly forward is one of the reasons I found it so fascinating.  I had a hard time pulling myself away from the screen because I kept wanting to see what would happen next.

But the disadvantage is that although the film does a very good job of showing what happened, it doesn't do such a good job of showing how or why.
For example, every history student knows that Robespierre will eventually rise to power.  So from the moment you first see him, you know he will come to dominate things eventually.  And he does.  But the movie never really shows how he came to dominate the convention.  The movie just shows him as an uncharismatic, fussy, fastidious little man who somehow gets more and more prominent as time progresses.
Similarly, the audience is told that Mirabeau is an important figure in the early stages of the Revolution (as he was) but not really shown it.  (We don't get many scenes of Mirabeau dominating the assembly, so the audience just has to accept that he's important becomes the film tells us he's important.).
Similarly with several other characters.

But what can you do?  Considering this was originally a theatrical release, you can't very well ask for this movie to be any longer than it already is. You just have to accept that there's not enough time for everything, and accept the movie's limitations.

(I still hold out hope that someday someone will make a 5 season cable TV show about the French Revolution.  And then we can finally get into all the glorious details ).

Keeping in mind that this movie is only for the history geeks, as a history geek I give it 10 out of 10 Stars.

The History
I actually knew most of the history beforehand.  (I've been interested in the French Revolution for a long time--see herehereherehereherehereherehereherehere, here, here, here , here, here , here, here and here).  So there were very few surprises for me in this movie.
But I deprived a lot of pleasure from anticipating how certain events were going to be depicted, and then comparing my idea of these events to what the filmmakers showed.

And it would be an exaggeration to say I learned nothing new from the film--I did pick up a few new tidbits, and learned about a few new names.  (One of the advantages of watching a film on the Internet is that Wikipedia is right at your fingertips.  So I would often pause the film to look up a name, or double check and event, and that also helped me learn more.)

I also think I caught one or two minor inaccuracies.

There's no point in me writing down all my thoughts on the history.  I've got got other things I need to do today, and you can access Wikipedia just as easily as I can.

But I will write down a few things that struck me.

On the Plus Side
* I became interested in Camille Desmoulins a few years ago when I was reading a lot about the French Revolution.  He was one of those names that would pop up in every history of the French Revolution, and he seemed to represent the more romantic and idealistic side of the revolution.
But it was very hard to find any biographies about Camille Desmoulins.  At least in English.  (I searched, and found nothing.)
This movie puts Desmoulins front and center as one of its main characters.  So I was happy about that.

* I was also pleased that this movie found a way to work in the "No one loves armed missionaries" quote from Robespierre.

* Most movies about the French Revolution, and indeed many books about the French Revolution, completely leave out Jacques Hebert.  This is unfortunate, because if you want to understand Robespierre's actions you need to understand that he felt he was in danger both from the Left and from the Right.  If you leave out the story Jacques Hebert, you leave out all the pressure Robespierre was getting from the Left.
The movie didn't have time to develop Hebert, of course, but I'm glad they remembered to put him in at all.

* I'm disappointed that the movie omitted such characters as Talleyrand, Thomas Paine, and Abbe Sieyès.  But I understand there was no room for them.

* Minor nitpick--Danton went to his death calmly, as depicted in the movie.  Desmoulins, however, was not as calm as he was depicted as being in the movie.

Other Notes
I've been interested in the French Revolution since high school.
But it's scary to think how much I've aged since my school days. I'm now at a point in life where I am older than pretty much all of the French Revolutionaries.
Danton and Desmoulins were 34 when they died.  Robespierre was 36.  Saint Just was only 26.
What have I done with my life?

Video Review
Video Review HERE and embedded below:

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky (2017) "Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe" [FULL Talk + Q&A]

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