Six years after directing Gerard Depardieu to nosy Gascon glory in Cyrano de Bergerac, Jean Paul Rappeneau returns with an oddly paced journey through a cholera-ridden Provence of the early 19th century. The $35 million Roof – much ballyhooed by producer Hachette for breaking local budget records – delivers an admirable re-creation of the Romantic era. But the pic, like its many cholera victims, goes from vivacious to lifeless.
The world of Roof is that of French literary giant Jean Giono, from whose home in the Provencal town of Manosque the atmospheric 1951 novel emerged to enthrall French readers. Giono’s Provence is harsh and wild, almost like the Far West.
Pic begins with a bang as Angelo (Olivier Martinez), an Italian officer and mama’s boy-turned-revolutionary against his country’s Hapsburg overlords, bolts from his hideout in Aix-en-Provence of 1832. His Austrian would-be assassins in hot pursuit, Angelo gallops inland to warn his fellow Italian exiles of the covert death squad at large. He eventually steals into the closed town of Manosque, where he’s fed by a mysterious noblewoman (Juliette Binoche), who keeps the plot moving by stirring curiosity in Angelo’s heart.
Remainder of pic follows the two as they effortlessly – much too effortlessly – elude or outwit all comers in their picturesque meanderings. Secondary characters rise and fall by the wayside.
Binoche’s restrained, decorous perf as a restless noblewoman is utterly convincing. As dressed by costume designer Franca Squarciapino, Binoche looks and moves the part of a Romantic heroine, even if her traveling companion does not live up to his Byronic possibilities. Handsome young Martinez struggles with his unforgiving part throughout the film’s two hours and change.