Monday, January 6, 2014

Henry of Navarre (2010)

Henry of Navarre (Julien Boisselier) marries Princess Margot (Armelle Deutsch)

Queen Catherine de Medici (Hannelore Hoger) plots with Margot

Henri IV leads his troops to victory
Henri IV: Ever since I was the little King of Navarre, uncertain of my future, a long way from France’s throne, I’ve longed for this great hour.  Now I am strong enough to declare that you shall be free.  Free in your beliefs and free in your thoughts...Nobody will be persecuted for different beliefs than the majority.  Catholics and Huguenots, all of you are my people.  I love you equally. ~from Henry of Navarre (2010)
 Jo Baier directs the German production of Henry of Navarre, also known as Henri 4, a biopic about France's most beloved King, the first monarch of the Bourbon dynasty. The film captures Henri IV's simplicity, common touch, and fearless unconcern about personal safety, qualities admired by the later Bourbons but ultimately embodied by Henri's descendant Louis XVI. He is also shown as a savvy politician, able to outwit the Guises and the Valois, as well as a warrior-king, who leads his men into battle. Henri's womanizing proclivities, imitated by his future progeny, are also depicted, especially his tragic love affair with the loyal Gabrielle d'Estrées.

According to The Hollywood Reporter:
Based on the popular novel by Heinrich Mann, the film covers the same ground as Patrice Chereau's more accomplished 1994 drama "La Reine Margot," in which Isabelle Adjani was the queen and Daniel Auteuil her tormented but determined spouse.
The time is 1563, with Catholics and Protestants -- in the form of Huguenots from Navarre in the southwestern part of France -- at fearful odds. Catherine de Medici (Hannelore Hoger) is a bringer of death who rules everyone and everything with brutal guile as she plots to keep one or other of her sons on the throne.

Current occupant Charles IX (Ulrich Noethen) is batty as a flock of gargoyles and so fearful that he sweats blood and gives in to whatever horrible things his mother makes him do. That includes permitting the massacre of the Huguenots who gather in Paris peacefully on St. Bartholemew's Day for the marriage of his firebrand sister Margot (Armelle Deutsch) to Huguenot leader Henry of Navarre (Julien Boisselier).

The film begins with the story of Henry's childhood with a narration that casts the boy and future king as a savior of France and the fear is that the film will be all about a saintly fellow who simply follows his destiny.

But the individual described by author Mann and screenwriters Baier and Cooky Ziesche, and portrayed by Boisselier, is far from squeaky clean. With his eye firmly on the prize, which is to say the crown, Henry matches wits with the matriarch of the de Medicis, legates from the Papacy, villains dispatched by the king's cohorts and the bewitching but soul-destroying Margot.

With serious features that suddenly break out in a winning smile, Boisselier captures Henry's chameleon ability to roll with the punches and be peasant or king, warrior or diplomat, and lover or chaste as the situation requires. Deutsch plays Margot enjoyably as all sex and little mischief while Chloe Stefani brings wit and insolence to temper the devotion of Gabrielle, the love of Henry's life. Hoger is a fairly conventional Catherine but Ulrich Noethen sees what a rich role he has in Charles and enjoys every minute of it. (Read more.)
Henry of Navarre helped me as never before understand the devastation caused by France's Wars of Religion, which in some ways were akin to England's Wars of the Roses except with religious differences were thrown into the mix. None of the chief characters involved seem to be particularly religious, except for the Guises, in a weird, angry sort of way. In the film, most of the Catholics do not come off too well, especially after the atrocious St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Henri, in the movie, is psychologically scarred for life by the massacre, as are most of the other characters, not surprisingly. By that point in the film, Catholics are something from the pit of hell. In every scene which involves a Catholic ceremony the same three "cardinals" are shown, always in their red robes and never in vestments, not even at Henri's first wedding or Marie's coronation. At Henri's profession of Faith, when he becomes a Catholic for the third time, the three cardinals are surrounded by bishops in eerie black robes and black miters; I wonder if they were the same black bishop costumes used in the 1998 film Elizabeth. It is not that difficult to research historical vestments on the internet so I do not know why otherwise authentic productions fail so completely to accurately represent Roman Catholic liturgical ceremonies.

I thought that the Valois family, meaning Catherine de Medici and her children, were portrayed as a carnival side show. This is not hard to do with the Valois, although in the film their short-comings are exaggerated to the point of truly being a circus freak exhibit. In doing so the inaccuracies are emphasized. Charles IX was only in his twenties and yet he is played by Ulrich Noethen, a middle-aged man. Henri III (Devid Striesow) is shown as a drunken, hysterical homosexual with masochistic tendencies whereas the historical Henri III was, for the most part, a dignified man. Both Valois kings had women in their lives other than their mother; Henri III had a queen whom he loved and Charles IX had a mistress. However, those ladies are not shown. The Valois family lives in what looks like an abandoned parking garage which is strange when they owned the most beautiful Renaissance châteaux in the Loire valley.

As for the infamous Queen Margot, her black hair, eyeliner and gaunt face give her the semblance of a vampire. The historical Marguerite of Valois was plump with chestnut hair. Her relationship with Henri involves a great deal of slapping and choking, although at one point she does save his life.

Henri's second queen, Marie de Medici, is accurately dramatized as an overweight manipulator, not particularly intelligent. Henri's revulsion for her is palpable but his callous treatment of her makes for no small enemy. At the time of his life when he should have been happiest he is faced with new misery. Nevertheless, he finds satisfaction in restoring peace to France, and in his children, although only one of his six children with Marie, the future Louis XIII, is represented. The final poignant scene has a beauty all its own as, moments before his death, Henri sees a girl on a balcony who resembles his lost Gabrielle, and breaks into a radiant smile.

Chloe Stefani as Gabrielle d'Estrées

Marie de Medici (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) and her dwarf

Watch the entire film, HERE. Share

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