Movie Review By Andrea Chase
France, in the late eighteenth century, among the upper classes anyway, was at the pinnacle of delicate sensibilities and refinements of etiquette that would have overwhelmed even Miss Manners. It was also a hotbed of intrigue and debauchery. Such times lend themselves to those who are larger than life and that's certainly true of the subject of the film "Beaumarchais - the Scoundrel."
When we meet Beaumarchais, the author of "The Barber of Seville" and "The Marriage of Figaro," he's living well on the proceeds from his plays and on the large inheritances from two deceased wives. The circumstances of their deaths have always been, shall we say, suspicious?
He's also stirring things up with his politics by writing smart and pointed plays that take pot shots at the status quo. He believed in such radical ideas as author's rights and liberty for all. Not a safe thing to do in a country that was an exquisitely dressed police state. This often meant that for Beaumarchais, it was, write a hit play, go to jail until the offended parties cool off.
He was smarter than the people around him but Beaumarchais was so savvy and so sneaky, that he could not only get away with thinking subversive thoughts out loud, he was recruited for secret missions on behalf of the French government. He could also seduce women into seducing other men, if it advanced his own interests.
As the scoundrel himself, Fabrice Luchini is deliciously charismatic. His kewpie doll face seems incapable of guile, ideal for convincing people of his complete honesty as he lies through his teeth. And though he's not a beauty, it's no stretch to believe that women are putty in his hands.
"Beaumarchais" brings to life with style and wit the adventures of one of the more interesting people from the age of enlightenment. But it's no whitewash. He has an adoring apprentice and an even more adoring mistress who are both, by turns, enraptured and bitterly disappointed by their idol, and who come to terms with Beaumarchais' shortcomings, by turning the tables on him with a poetic justice that is emphatically both.
"Beaumarchais - The Scoundrel" is as elegant as a souffle, but much more substantial and a lot more fun.
© 1997 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 11/26/97
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