Bertrand Tavernier’s “The Daughter of D’Artagnan” is an unabashedly old-fashioned, swashbuckling action comedy that will likely surprise longtime fans of the French helmer’s more weighty work. The salty costume drama will do boffo biz with French-speaking auds in Europe and Canada and will generate interest in the U.S. among viewers looking for light, entertaining foreign fare.
This is a sexy, often very funny sequel to the Alexandre Dumas classic “The Three Musketeers.” Tavernier has said it is a tribute to the action pix he grew up with, and the film’s strength comes from its ability to deliver the thrills and spills of the Errol Flynn-style actioners without being self-consciously nostalgic.
Set in 1650s France, fast-paced story opens with a slave escaping through the woods from the estate of the evil Duke of Crassac (Claude Rich). The Mother Superior of a nearby convent gives refuge to the slave and is murdered by the Duke’s henchman in retaliation.
Eloise (Sophie Marceau), who is studying at the convent, is shocked by the murder, and the spunky, rebellious girl immediately sets off for Paris hoping to enlist her famous dad, D’Artagnan (Philippe Noiret), to help seek revenge.
Along the way, she meets up with flaky, romantic poet Quentin (Nils Tavernier , the director’s son) and gets involved in the first of the pic’s many bench-clearing brawls featuring implausibly comic punch-ups and neatly choreographed sword duels. She arrives in Paris to find her aging father is a shadow of his former swashbuckling self, and isn’t exactly crazy about jumping back into the musketeer biz.
Eloise is convinced that the Mother Superior’s murder is part of a larger, nefarious plot to destabilize the country, and so she heads off to the royal court to warn the powers-that-be of the impending insurrection.
D’Artagnan finally reveals his old fighting spirit and reluctantly agrees to help out his daughter. He rounds up his three old musketeer pals — Athos, Porthos and Aramis — to embark on one last adventure.
The plot then takes a series of convoluted twists involving everything from competing conspiracy theories to the amorous exploits of the young king, but the fast-moving action sequences and always-witty dialogue keep the viewer entertained throughout.
All-star French thesps are uniformly first-rate. Marceau is captivating and sexy as the spirited female musketeer, and Noiret adds a poignant edge to pic with his portrayal of D’Artagnan as an almost-washed-up hero. Actors look like they’re having fun, particularly Rich, who turns in an over-the-top comic turn as the low-IQ bad guy.
Philippe Sarde’s wonderfully warm score and Jacqueline Moreau’s sumptuous period costumes add to pic’s flavor and elegance.
“The Daughter of D’Artagnan” is light years removed from well-known Tavernier pix like “‘Round Midnight” and “Daddy Nostalgie,” and the helmer has said lensing the film was like a vacation for him. That sense of lighthearted pleasure is precisely what makes the film so viewer-friendly.
In an unusual move, France’s Bac Films released the pic in the main coastal vacation areas of France in early August and opened it in Paris a couple of weeks later. It is already ringing up strong action at the box office in Tavernier’s home country.
“Daughter” received a wildly enthusiastic response at its North American preem at the Montreal film fest. Malofilm Distribution, which has French rights in Canada, will open the pic in Quebec Oct. 7. Miramax has U.S. rights to the film.