Fanfan la Tulipe [DVD]
Director : Christian-Jaque
Screenplay : René Wheeler & René Fallet (adaptation by Christian-Jaque & Henri Jeanson & René Wheeler; dialogue by Henri Jeanson)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1952
Stars : Gérard Philipe (Fanfan la Tulipe), Gina Lollobrigida (Adeline La Franchise), Marcel Herrand (Louis XV), Olivier Hussenot (Tranche-Montagne), Henri Rollan (Le maréchal d’Estrée), Nerio Bernardi (La Franchise), Jean-Marc Tennberg (Lebel), Geneviève Page (La marquise de Pompadour), Sylvie Pelayo (Henriette de France), Lolita De Silva (La dame d’honneur), Irène Young (Marion), Georgette Anys (Madame Tranche-Montagne)
Although largely unknown west of the Atlantic Ocean, Fanfan la Tulipe is a beloved character in France whose origins date back to jovial folk songs of the mid-18th century about a French soldier who defeated the British army. Fanfan made his way through the various media of his day, including a popular 19th-century song, an 1882 operetta, and various stage incarnations before debuting on the silver screen in an eight-part serial in 1925. However, the character is best remembered on screen in Christian-Jaque’s 1952 film Fanfan la Tulipe, which abides by all the conventions of the swashbuckler while, in true Fanfan spirit, gently poking at its inherent absurdities and playing the line between the straight and the bawdy, the blithely humorous and the downright ridiculous (this is, after all, a film in which the opening narration refers to war as “pleasant”).
As embodied by the handsome and charming Gérard Philipe, who by the early 1950s was already a major movie star, Fanfan is the quintessential French hero, an unbridled free spirit who is as quick with a witty comeback or sly aside as he is with a rapier. The manner in which the main character in a film is introduced is always of paramount importance, and it is with a wink and a smile that we first meet Fanfan as he is discovered in a haystack having just bedded a farmer’s daughter. With the girl’s outraged father threatening to force him into marriage with the girl (the horrors of it all!), Fanfan escapes to the only place available at the moment: King Louis XV’s army, which is currently embroiled in the Seven Years’ War.
It turns out that Fanfan is as great a fighter as he is a lover, but he wants to do it on his own terms, which doesn’t always sit well with his superior officers, who are a mixture of the absurdly overconfident and the pathetically cowardly. We first get a sense of Fanfan’s skill with a blade when he rushes to the rescue of two fair maidens who are beset by a gang of highway thieves while the other French soldiers cower behind bushes. It turns out that one of the young women is the king’s daughter (it she who gives him the tulip from which he gets his name).
Naturally, Fanfan accepts a kiss as payment for his heroic deed, but he is doubly emboldened because the army recruiter’s beautiful and buxom daughter, Adeline La Franchise (Italian siren Gina Lollobrigida, dubbed by Claire Guibert), had earlier informed him as part of a ruse to get him to join the army that he would someday marry the king’s daughter. This sets up the film’s love triangle, with Fanfan, thinking he is fulfilling his destiny, deserting the army to chase after the king’s daughter while Adeline, his obvious true love, is being pursued by the humorously smarmy King Louis (Marcel Herrand). Along the way we get plenty of swordfights to show off Gérard Philipe’s athletic dexterity, conversational back-and-forths to show off screenwriter Henri Jeanson’s clever dialogue, and fawning shots of Adeline to show off Gina Lollobrigida physical assets.
Director Christian-Jaque, whose career spanned the dawn of the sound era until the mid-1980s, began his film career as a set designer before moving behind the camera as a director (his first film was 1932’s Les trois masques, France’s first “talkie”), and it shows in his attention to visual detail. He was one of the main proponents of the costume drama in the 1950s, which naturally made him a running punchline among the New Wave directors who were to take the world by storm and completely rewrite the French cinema a decade later (many critics argue that this is why his name is not better known in film history). Fanfan la Tulipe is an excellent example of Christian-Jaque’s aesthetic, as it mixes an intense focus on visual beauty, in terms of both the actors and what they’re wearing, with a light comic touch. It isn’t a particularly showy style, but it is one that is difficult to do well (which may be why he won the director’s prize at Cannes), and while Fanfan la Tulipe is ultimately little more than an effervescent trifle, it is certainly a lot of fun.
|Fanfan la Tulipe Criterion Collection DVD|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||November 18, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Criterion’s new transfer of Fanfan la Tulipe was made a 35mm fine-grain master positive and digitally restored, while the soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from an optical soundtrack print. Both image and sound are impressive given the film’s age. The black-and-white cinematography looks wonderful, especially in the film’s many beautiful locations around the south of France. There are only a few minor signs of age; otherwise, the print is perfectly clean (it is also not windowboxed, unlike so many Academy aspect ratio films in the Criterion Collection). In addition to the original French soundtrack, there is an optional English-dubbed track that I assume was recorded for the film’s successful U.S. theatrical run in the 1950s.|
|The main supplement on this disc is the new half-hour documentary Gérard Philipe: Star, Idol, Legend, which features new interviews with Philipe’s daughter, Anne-Marie Philipe, and his biographer, Gérard Bonal, as well as brief archival interviews with Christian-Jaque and Gina Lollobrigida from 1979. About half of the documentary focuses on Philipe’s life, while the other half focuses on the production and reception of Fanfan la Tulipe (this section features some great footage from the film’s production). Also included are the original French theatrical trailer and a six-minute sequence from the film (Fanfan’s rescue of the king’s daughter from the bandits) in its colorized version. While not nearly as awful looking as some colorized films, it still looks pretty lousy.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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