Le hussard sur le toit (1995)

HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF, THE (Hussard sur le toit, Le)

(director/writer: Jean-Paul Rappeneau; screenwriters: Nina Cornpaneez/ Jean-Claude Carriere/from the book by Jean Giono; cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast; editor: Noëlle Boisson; music: Jean-Claude Petit; cast: Juliette Binoche (Pauline de Théris), Olivier Martinez (Angelo), Francois Cluzet (Doctor), Pierre Arditi (Monsieur Peyrolle), Carlo Cecchi (Giuseppe); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: R; producer: René Cleitman; Miramax Zoe; 1995-France-in French with English subtitles)

“All the lusty romantic longings and adventurous thrills led nowhere, leaving me with an empty feeling.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jean-Paul Rappeneau (“Cyrano de Bergerac”) directs this sumptuous costume adventure tale set in the 19th century, with Nina Cornpaneez and Jean-Claude Carriere as co-writers. It is based on the book by Jean Giono.

The fast-paced narrative takes place during a cholera epidemic raging through the Provence. Angelo Pardi (Olivier Martinez) is a hussar, a colonel in the Italian army, fleeing Austrian assassins in 1832 after the fall of Napoleon and retreating to France where he plans to join other patriots and continue the fight with Austria rather than submit to their rule. The Austrians are hoping to wipe out the exiled Italian revolutionaries and take complete control of Italy.

When Pardi is chased by a trio of mercenaries who have been hired to take him back to Italy, he boldly escapes. But when he uses the medical knowledge he acquired from a doctor to mercifully help some villagers, he only finds himself accused by them of infecting their water supply and hastily escapes a lynching.

Caught in a blinding rainstorm during his escape, Pardi takes to riding on the rooftops and soon takes shelter inside a house in the city of Manosque. Unknown to Pardi, the beautiful lady of the house, the French noblewoman Pauline (Juliette Binoche), is at home, but she surprisingly welcomes him with open arms rather than sending him away. He soon learns that Pauline’s husband is missing and that she is set on finding him at any cost–even if she has to travel alone through the dangerous countryside. They make arrangements to travel together, hoping to avoid both the disease and detection for Pardi. The smitten Pardi risks his life in a chivalrous act to ensure the brave lady’s safe journey, as the gallant colonel delays his eventual return to Italy.

Martinez makes for a dashing hero, Binoche provides some emotional depth, the landscape scenery looks ravishing, but there was not much to the story that kept me interested. All the lusty romantic longings and adventurous thrills led nowhere, leaving me with an empty feeling.

“Horseman” was nominated for ten Cesar Awards (the French Oscar); it won two, for Best Cinematography and Best Sound.