Fanfan la Tulipe
Directed by Christian-Jaque
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 99 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: November 18, 2008
Review Date: November 2, 2008
A rollicking adventure tale with a hint of romance makes for a crowd-pleasing treasure in Christian-Jaque’s Fanfan la Tulipe. Laced with the same sense of swashbuckling fun as The Adventures of Robin Hood or The Three Musketeers, Fanfan la Tulipe is a joy to watch. It’s impossible to sit through its 99 minutes and not finish it without a smile on your face.
Faced with the unappetizing prospect of a shotgun marriage to a local innocent he’s made love to, French casanova Fanfan (Gérard Philipe) enlists in King Louis XV’s army and on his way to basic training finds himself defending the king’s daughter Henriette (Sylvie Pelayo) and the Marquise de Pompadour (Geneviève Page) from bandits and handily defeating them. Presented with a platinum tulip by the Marquise, Fanfan is enraptured by Henriette, especially after a pseudo-gypsy fortuneteller (Gina Lollobrigida) predicts he’ll wed the princess. Engaged in a series of sword duels and fights with various people while he pursues his lady love, Fanfan also manages to get directly involved in Louis XV’s “Lace War” much to his and his enemies’ surprise.
Christian-Jaque handles the many action scenes beautifully with the bandit attack, an exciting duel between Fanfan and Fier on a rooftop, and the climactic battle scene (with Fanfan and Tranche doing the work of fifty) especially memorable. The script by René Wheeler and René Fallet (and adapted by the director, Wheeler, and Henri Jeanson) uses an infrequent narrator (voiced by Jean Debucourt) which is much more annoying than illuminating, droll though his comments are. The pacing is outstandingly controlled with some nifty stunt work (much of it done by the star himself) truly lending the film an air of joie de vivre.
Gérard Philipe’s star turn in this frisky, almost farcical quest for love and honor is one part Tom Jones and two parts d’Artagnan and all conveyed with a brio and moxie that’s intoxicating to watch. He dominates every scene with his blazing star quality and brings to mind Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power at their most effervescent. Gina Lollobrigida makes a comely gypsy secretly pining for the rascally Fanfan while Olivier Hussenot plays her father with equal parts loving candor and wry mischief. Marcel Herrand’s Louis XV is a pompous fool making judgments based on too little thought or information, and Jean-Mare Tennberg is appropriately toady as his valet. Fanfan’s primary adversary is cunning swordsman Fier-a-Bras given a spiky interpretation by Noël Roquevert. The cast to a person seems to be having a whale of a good time in this marvelous period piece.
The film’s 1.33:1 original theatrical aspect ratio is brought forward for this DVD edition. (Criterion has not windowboxed this film as it has done so often in the past with transfers in the academy ratio.) Despite only a stray speck, a momentary hair, or bit of debris, most of the transfer is clean and quite beautiful with good sharpness and more than adequate black levels. Contrast is well balanced delivering a fine black and white image. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound is for the most part clear and free of noise though there is a low level of hiss detectable on occasion. As with many audio mixes of the era, there is next to no bass in the mix making Maurice Thiriet and Georges Van Parys’ music overly bright.
There is a 27-minute biography of actor Gérard Philipe presented in anamorphic widescreen. His daughter and other French film historians offer up anecdotes about the star’s career on stage and film, his interest in politics, and his too-short life ending quickly in 1958 from liver cancer.
An excerpt from the 1997 colorized version of the movie features the action-filled scene with the bandits that runs 5 ½ minutes. Though I abhor the process of colorization, I have to admit this is the best utilization of the process I have ever seen.
The original theatrical trailer runs 3 ¾ minutes.
An enclosed 17-page booklet includes the cast and crew list, a generous selection of movie stills, and a celebratory essay on the film by critic Kenneth Turan.
Pure pleasure from start to finish, Fanfan la Tulipe is a picture even those who dislike foreign films would likely love. Lots of derring-do involving interesting characters and a non-intrusive love story make for a wonderful movie experience. Highly recommended!