Resplendent and intelligent from start to finish, Ridicule strikes a winning balance between humor and heart as it pillories an era in France (the court of Louis XVI, circa 1780) when wit was the most valuable currency and a man’s fortune and reputation could be made or undone on the strength of a single remark.
Engineer Gregoire Ponceludon de Malavoy (Charles Berling) is baron of an estate where the peasants are dropping (literally) like flies, felled by diseases that breed in the murderous swamps. Gregoire sets out from the provinces to plead his case at Versailles.
Gregoire is befriended by a near-penniless physician, the Marquis de Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort). Bellegarde knows the ins and outs of establishing favor at Versailles but also maintains a more down-to-earth home life with his daughter, Mathilde (Judith Godreche), a bright lass on the brink of loveless union.
All Gregoire has to do is steer clear of humiliation as he works his way up to an audience with the king while sorting out his carnal attraction to powerful Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant) vs his love for Mathilde.
Thesps are terrific. Nasty characters abound in the pithy script but they are never less than human and well observed. Stage-trained Berling fits the bill as the Candide-like interloper who is both attracted to and repelled by the heady, elitist atmosphere at court. Costumes and hairdos evoke the era without calling undue attention to themselves.
1996: Nomination: Best Foreign Language.