Monsieur N. Reviews
The last years of Napoleon's life were spent on this deserted island. He lived in this big house but the whole island was really his prison.
The movie suggests that Napoleon did not really die on the island but he escaped the island with no less a brilliant plan as well calculated as his strategies at war. The movie tells the story straight until like the last fifteen minutes when that suggestion really becomes possible, explained with a series of flashbacks, much like THE SIXTH SENSE.
Do I like the movie? Ok lah, quite forgettable if you have to ask me. It is more like a historical thriller. I expected some serious history lessons instead. Worth catching? Surely. It is a good exercise of mystery, thriller, breathtaking sceneries and great performances. Two of the actors alternate their speaking languages between French and English ever so effortlessly.
Expected Rating: B
It's true that tests have shown that the hair of Napoléon Bonaparte (Philippe Torreton) shows evidence of highly elevated arsenic content. However, further tests have shown that pretty much everyone in the era had elevated arsenic content as compared to current levels. As many as a hundred times current normal levels, I've read. The fact is, as is stated in the movie itself, you can build up a resistance to arsenic, and if you absorb a little at a time over a long time, the levels will build up to the point where your body won't even notice levels of arsenic which would kill a person with no resistance. They're actually talking now, I've read, about doing DNA tests on the remains in the tomb to disprove the theory that it isn't Napoléon in Napoléon's tomb, but all the tests taken at this point have pretty much proven that whoever is interred in that tomb, they didn't die of arsenic poisoning.
The framing story takes place in the days when the body of Napoléon was returned to Paris and interred in a tomb at Les Invalides. Young Colonel Basil Heathcote (Jay Rodan) had been stationed on Saint Helena during Napoléon's imprisonment, and he has come to Paris to see the interment. While there, he sees a woman he thinks is Betsy Balcombe (Siobhan Hewlett), who lived on Saint Helena and was a favourite of the deposed emperor. We see those last days in flashback, when Heathcote was a lieutenant and Hudson Lowe (Richard E. Grant) was governor and the former emperor's jailer. The more Heathcote talks to the people who surrounded the general, the more he begins to think that there was something mysterious in those last days. In those days, Napoléon was surrounded by the last of his hangers-on, those who think that perhaps he will escape Saint Helena as he previously escaped Elba. Or, more so, people who hope that he will remember them in his will.
The special features talk about the mysteries behind the death of Napoléon, and they mention that there are people who believe he had some sort of hormonal imbalance which led to his slowly turning into a woman. Now, I think we can all agree that this is one of the most ridiculous theories out there. As in, that's not actually physically possible. And that's the thing. Filmmaker Antoine de Caunes seems to believe that it isn't all that ridiculous. Weird, but not ridiculous. He seems to be one of those people who believes that it would have been impossible for Napoléon Bonaparte to have died a normal death of stomach cancer while in exile. That simply isn't the kind of death such a man would have died. But the fact is, it happens all the time. Great men die prosaic deaths, and prosaic men die heroic deaths. There's no logic behind it. People want there to be, but there really isn't. The saying "there are no coincidences in politics" is a lie, and the idea that there is reason behind everything is a false one.
The problem with the structure of the film is that I missed something important to the story's chronology. I thought Cipriani (Bruno Putzulu) had been dead for years by the time Napoléon was supposed to have died, which means the story in my head made the story onscreen impossible. I also had a hard time keeping track who most of the people were; there were three or four I knew, but mostly there were "that one French guy" and "that other French guy." Richard E. Grant, I knew, but in my head, he's still Roland from [i]L.A. Story[/i] and has a lot of verve. (Honestly, a little too much for the story.) There are plenty of subplots running through the thing, and perhaps I would have done better if I knew a bit more about Napoleonic history. But I honestly have no idea how many of the characters in this were real and how many were invented for the purpose of the movie. It was disjointed, and it wasn't rendered skillfully enough to let those disconnected bits of story flow together.
I'd really like to see a story about the final days of Napoléon which didn't delve into conspiracism. It's too easy a crutch. People don't seem to understand how the real world works. Any British officer who let Napoléon Bonaparte walk off Saint Helena could have been sentenced with treason, I'm sure, and certainly would have suffered very serious ramifications of some sort. Yes, it seems that Hudson Lowe mistreated Napoléon pretty seriously and was generally held responsible for everything that happened, but doesn't that make it even less likely that he would be part of any Napoleonic conspiracy. At least the movie didn't talk about the damned wallpaper, I guess, but there isn't much to be said about the story as presented. Maybe one of these days, I'll actually read some about man and era. I've dabbled a bit, but it's kind of one of the parts of history I skip over. It's important, and it shaped the Civil War--which is one of the parts of history that I know--but I'm still not terribly interested.
The examination of the intimate details of the final years of Napoleon's and his relationships within the exile group are worth the price of admission alone. Acceptance of the alleged outcome does not change the quality of the film.
The main female characters in the carry the film. In particular, Elsa Zylberstein though a commendable performance from Siobhan Hewlett should be noted.
Richard E. Grant as the martinet gaoler Sir Hudson Lowe was not particularly convincing
[i]Monsieur N.[/i] is nowhere near as interesting as it was supposed to be. It boasts a tagline similar to "history is written by the victors," but never fully explores the story of Napoleon Bonaparte to any satisfying or fascinating conclusion (even if the true history may never be known). I was expecting a little less of a borefest for the first half of the film.
[color=darkorange]Nearly all of the Luis Bunuel films I have seen until now have been from his later period(60's to 70's) where he is specializing in surreal imagery like Belle du Jour, That Obscure Object of Desire, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Milky Way. I had read about some of the films he had made in Mexico but Los Olividados(1950) is the first of them that I have seen. Basically, it is about a group of street urchins in Mexico City(even though the film makes it clear it could take place anywhere). Jaibo, a charismatic sociopath, has just escaped from a reform school. Some of the impact of this film has dulled over the years but it is still a very good movie about the impact of poverty on a younger generation and that kindness can somtimes only be handed out by those who can afford to. Oh and Bunuel, still manages to get a couple of vivid dream sequences into the film.[/color]
[color=indigo]"Monsieur N." starts out with the exhuming of Napoleon Bonaparte's remains on St. Helena in 1840, 19 years after his death.(Perhaps, they were just checking to see if he was still dead.) The movie flashes back to Napoleon's final imprisonment on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. "Monsieur N." wants to speculate on possible conspiracies as to the causes of Napoleon's death but it is not interesting or imaginative enough to succeed on that point. It does retain some interest as to the relationship of the imprisonment of the former emperor who perhaps never considered himself to be a prisoner versus the English who most certainly did. There is a distraction concerning what can only be called a schoolboy crush. It is a shame that "Monsieur N" does not really come alive until its conclusion because I think it could have been quite a bit better.[/color]