ON GUARD (LE BOSSU)
(director/writer: Philippe de Broca; screenwriters: Jean Cosmos/Jerome Tonnerre/from the book ”Le Bossu” by Paul Féval; cinematographer: Jean-François Robin; editor: Henri Lanoë; music: Philippe Sarde; cast: Daniel Auteuil (Lagardère), Fabrice Luchini (Gonzague), Vincent Perez (Nevers), Marie Gillain (Aurore), Philippe Noiret (Philippe d’Orleans), Yann Collette (Peyrolles), Jean-Francois Stevenin (Cocardasse), Didier Pain (Passepoil), Claire Nebout (Blanche); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Patrick Godeau; Empire Pictures; 1997-France-Italian-German/in French with English subtitles)
“It was too silly and formulaic to get my undivided attention.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An old-fashioned swashbuckler directed and co-scripted by Philippe de Broca (“Cartouche”/”King of Hearts”) from the 1857 book ”Le Bossu” by Paul Féval, which makes this the fifth screen adaptation of this serialized novel. Le Bossu translates as ”The Hunchback,” and it is filled with lighthearted charm but repeats a tired story of sword fighting, heroics, villainy, romance, treachery, deception and revenge. It was too silly and formulaic to get my undivided attention. The other co-writers are Jean Cosmos and Jerome Tonnerre.
It is set during the early part of the 18th century, which includes the Regency period.
Lagardère (Daniel Auteuil) is a fun-loving street urchin who meets the dashing, wealthy, and hedonistic Duke de Nevers (Vincent Perez) in his uncle’s fencing class, and later befriends him by delivering a purloined letter from the duke’s wealthy, attractive and noble girlfriend Blanche de Caylus (Claire Nebout) telling him he’s now a father. The news of a potential heir elates the duke, a master fencer, who teaches Lagardère his famous Nevers attack lunge move that he promises will make him immortal, as it ends with the point fatally piercing the enemy between the eyes. They happily travel together to Blanche’s country estate, where he’s to get married and meet his new heir. While en route the foundling is knighted as Chevalier de Lagardère and acts as bodyguard.
But a new heir doesn’t sit well with the duke’s malevolent and greedy cousin Count Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini), who has now been replaced as the sole heir to the fortune and aims to remedy that by slaying his cousin and the child to gain the entire inheritance for himself. At the wedding reception the reptilian Gonzague and his many assassins massacre the entire wedding reception and kill Nevers, who before dying makes Lagardère promise to look after his child and avenge his death no matter how long it takes. Meanwhile Lagardère has branded the masked Gonzague with a hand wound, while the sly Gonzague has contrived to convince Blanche and everyone else that Lagardère abducted the baby and did the foul deed. How she could believe that when she witnessed the many men attacking her hubby, is beyond my belief. In any case, she’s held under house arrest by Gonzague for the next 16 years believing that her daughter Aurore and her abductor are dead. When Lagardère was hunted by Gonzague’s men, he joined a travelling Italian acting troupe and faked his death. For the next 16 years he raised the young Aurore (Marie Gillain) as his daughter without telling her the secret, and they both worked as acrobats in the show. She learns from him to be a master fencer and also shows more than a paternal interest in her father, which he gracefully deflects.
When the acting troupe comes to Paris the revenge plot begins, as a series of events allow Gonzague to know that both Lagardère and Aurore are still alive. Lagardère disguises himself as a hunchback and becomes the secret business emissary of Gonzague, who schemes to cause a run on the bank so he can purchase the Louisiana Territory. Gonzague gets his come-uppance as expected and since the hero of the story is no longer linked as a father to Aurore, their love is easily converted to one of an older man with a much younger girl as the juvenile adventure story is giving a French adult touch–probably the reason it took a number of years to reach America.
Daniel Auteuil was too old to be convincing playing a young man of 20 who ages to 36, but nevertheless still looks the same–like an old man.
REVIEWED ON 3/26/2004 GRADE: C+