My liking for the picture may have been affected by the extremely low expectations I brought to it-and for good reason, given the poor quality of many Cannes openers (remember "The Big Blue" and "The Barber of Siberia" for two harrowing examples over the past dozen years) and the overall tedium of Roland Joffe's directorial career in the decade and a half since "The Killing Fields," still his best effort. In short, there was every reason to dread "Vatel," but it proves a pleasant enough experience thanks to energetic contributions by a number of its participants. First among them is cinematographer Robert Fraisse, whose images are generally charged with life and energy if not any great degree of originality or depth. Noelle Boisson's editing snaps from shot to shot with a rhythmic thrust that jibes nicely with the bouncy score by Ennio Moriconne, still one of cinema's most gifted musical masters.
And the acting isn't bad, considering the competition from the aforementioned elements plus the fact that Jeanne Labrune's screenplay (filtered through Tom Stoppard's undistinguished English-language adaptation) is anything but nuanced. Depardieu barges through his title-role performance with the good-natured ungainliness that has become his trademark, and it's hard to imagine a better person to play the King's long-suffering valet given the good-natured ungainliness of the story surrounding him. Tim Roth manages to look just ridiculous enough in his 17th-century courtier's wig, and Uma Thurman has a wiry malevolence as the choicest lady in the chateau. The supporting cast gains from Timothy Spall's predictable excellence as well as fleeting appearances by sundry character actors who don't seem to be taking the proceedings any more seriously than they should. I wouldn't be surprised if Stateside audiences welcome "Vatel" more enthusiastically when Miramax opens it in American theaters. It's far from the worst overture Cannes has come up with in recent years.
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