director: roland joffe
gerard depardieu, uma thurman, tim roth

. Director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields) begins his latest film, Vatel, with a simple letter. The King is coming for a visit, a court official writes -- a modest weekend in the country with all it simple pleasures. No expense must be spared.

The King in question is Louis the Fourteenth of France -- The “Sun King” -- and his court is the last truly great one in the history of Europe: Lavishly wealthy, decadent, capricious, vicious and backstabbing. The country home in question is that of a disgraced general who is trying to buy himself back into the King’s graces with the help of his “Master of Pleasures”, Vatel, played by France’s most eminent actor, Gerard Depardieu.

From the first scene, Depardieu has a haunted, doomed look. In no time we see why -- in charge of an army of servants and labyrinth kitchens, beset by his master’s creditors, he has to entertain the King and his entourage of preening, spoiled aristocrats who snare him in their sinister intrigues. It will not end well for him.

Joffe’s film is visually stunning -- the scenes in the kitchens and royal banquets have the look of old oil paintings, lit with golden window light, of tables groaning with game and produce, some of it rotten and decayed. He also manages to make vaguely complex characters out of the court (Uma Thurman and Tim Roth, among others), a collection of grotesques that initially seem little more than gross, flatulent, constipated and gout-afflicted. An immensely enjoyable film that does a splendid job of justifying the abolition of monarchies.