×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Libertine

An occasionally witty and consistently lascivious romp, "The Libertine" plays into universal notions of what the French are always up to -- gourmet food, sex, philosophizing and more sex.

With:
Denis Diderot - Vincent Perez Madame Therbouche - Fanny Ardant Baroness d'Holbach - Josiane Balasko The Cardinal - Michel Serrault Madame de Terfeuil - Arielle Dombasle Chevalier de Terfeuil - Christian Charmetant Madame Diderot - Francoise Lepine Baron d'Holbach - Francois Lalande Julie d'Holbach - Audrey Tautou Angelique Diderot - Vahina Giocante

An occasionally witty and consistently lascivious romp, “The Libertine” plays into universal notions of what the French are always up to — gourmet food, sex, philosophizing and more sex. Exploring one very busy day in the life of Denis Diderot, the 18th century philosopher who produced the first “Encyclopedia” in between a lifestyle devoted to earthly pleasures, pic is a proudly ribald piece of faux-sophistication for fans of French farce. A dandy cross-section of Gallic thesps gets an opportunity to cut loose in this monumen-tally crude costume comedy that could prove a niche earner in upscale arthouse situations.

Film reps a giant step up for helmer Gabriel Aghion, whose last assignment, the lamentable “Belle Maman,” brought us Catherine Deneuve disco dancing before the urinals in a men’s room. “Libertine” takes the sex-o-centric humor that worked so much better in Aghion’s gay-themed B.O. smash “Pedale douce” (“What a Drag!”) and lands somewhere between the two pics.

Story is set in the lively pre-Revolutionary era, when the Libertines bucked church and state to speak, eloquently, of forbidden topics and practices. No sooner had Diderot and friends published their Encyclopedia, than it was outlawed by the government and their printing press shut down. However, copies of the banned book continued to circulate, infuriating the king and his religious advisers.

Diderot (Vincent Perez) and his wife (Francoise Lepine) and daughter are staying at the country estate of the Baron and Baroness d’Holbach (Francois Lalande, Josiane Balasko), with the baroness’ cousin, Madame de Terfeuil (Arielle Dombasle), and her foppish husband (Christian Charmetant) also in residence. The chapel’s cellar conceals a subterranean community of typesetters and printers who operate two incredibly noisy presses.

A cranky cardinal (vet Michel Serrault, in a delightfully hammy turn) shows up hoping to sniff out the secret location of the renegade press. Around the same time, the enticing Madame Therbouche (Fanny Ardant) arrives to paint Diderot’s portrait. (She’s already done Vol-taire, we’re told — and had her way with him, to boot.)

Bulk of pic consists of Diderot driving the typesetters crazy by writing his Encyclopedia entry on “morals,” only to tear it up after an en-counter with the fair sex causes him to modify his opinions. Meanwhile, to prevent the cardinal from nosing around near the chapel, the bar-oness keeps him occupied with her own (and eventually the entire staff’s) racy confessions.

Script is based on the play by popular legit scribe Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt that was inspired by true incidents, and helmer Aghion never met an innuendo he didn’t like: hymen humor, erection puns, anal-penetration jokes, eunuch yucks and fellatio giggles parse the proceedings. Running gags include the baroness’ enthusiasm for foreign delicacies (chocolate, caviar, pineapple, popcorn) and sensual pleasures (a steam-bath from Turkey complete with former slaves). Balasko’s earthy charm is an excellent fit here.

Ardant has fun with her layered role as Madame Therbouche, and Dombasle scores as the baroness’ cousin, an assiduous devotee of cunni-lingus, which she is happy to accept from men or women. In the title role, Perez, teeth gleaming and hair flying, displays considerable aplomb even while playing a prolonged outdoor sequence in his birthday suit.

Wigs and costumes fit the bill. However, Bruno Coulais’ score, which flirts with a disco demeanor, will not be to all tastes. Lensing is ade-quate, with an over-fondness for extreme closeups and asides spoken to camera.

The Libertine

France

Production: A Pathe Distribution release of a TF1 Films Prod., Bel Ombre Films, Mosca Films, Josy Films, Sans Contrefacon Prods. production, with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: UGC Intl., Paris.) Produced by Gaspard de Chavagnac. Executive producer, Raphael Cohen. Directed by Gabriel Aghion. Screenplay, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Aghion, based on the play by Schmitt.

Crew: Camera (color), Jean-Marie Dreujou; editor, Luc Barnier; music, Bruno Coulais; art director, Dan Weil; costume designer, Olivier Beriot; sound (Dolby), Brigitte Taillandier, Vincent Anardi; associate producer, Pascal Houzelot; assistant director, Thomas Trefouel. Reviewed at Gaumont Ambassade, Paris, Feb. 28, 2000. Running time: 100 MIN.

With: Denis Diderot - Vincent Perez Madame Therbouche - Fanny Ardant Baroness d'Holbach - Josiane Balasko The Cardinal - Michel Serrault Madame de Terfeuil - Arielle Dombasle Chevalier de Terfeuil - Christian Charmetant Madame Diderot - Francoise Lepine Baron d'Holbach - Francois Lalande Julie d'Holbach - Audrey Tautou Angelique Diderot - Vahina GiocanteWith: Bruno Todeschini, Arnaud Lemaire, Yan Duffas, Veronique Vella.

More Film

  • Best Films of 2018 Variety

    The Best Films of 2018

    Variety chief film critics — and cinema omnivores — Owen Gleiberman and Peter Debruge spend the year devouring everything from superhero movies to subtitled festival gems, which leaves a wealth of exceptional films to savor at year’s end. While “A Star Is Born” scored high with both critics, and “Eighth Grade” and “The Rider” each [...]

  • Peter Debruge Best Films of 2018

    Peter Debruge's 10 Best Films of 2018

    Every so often, Hollywood changes the world, but most of the time, the world changes Hollywood, which adjusts to reflect the innovation happening around it. A year after the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements forced the film industry to confront the sexism baked into the system, we are starting to see progress reflected onscreen and [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Sued for Home Video Profits by 'Young Doctors in Love' Writer

    Disney is facing a class-action lawsuit from the screenwriter of the 1982 hospital parody “Young Doctors in Love,” who alleges that the studio has withheld millions in home video revenue. Michael Elias filed the suit on Dec. 6 in Los Angeles Superior Court. His attorney, Neville Johnson, filed similar class-action lawsuits against six other studios [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    Richard E. Grant Makes the Most of His Screen Time

    Richard E. Grant is so memorable in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” that it’s a shock to realize he’s only in a fraction of the film. Fox Searchlight’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”centers on biographer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) when she is broke and desperate, and begins forging celebrity letters. Israel has encounters with multiple [...]

  • Wonder Woman

    Movies Starring Women Outperform Male-Led Titles at Box Office, Study Finds

    Female-led movies outperformed male-led titles at the worldwide box office during the 2014-17 period, a study released Tuesday showed. Creative Artists Agency and technology company Shift7 said that the analysis found that female-led films outperformed male-led films at all budget levels. The study grew out of the Time’s Up movement in a collaboration aiming to [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    Film Review: 'Aquaman'

    Aquaman isn’t like the other DC Comics superheroes, so it seems only right that his big-screen solo show should have a personality all its own — which, in the hands of “Furious 7” director James Wan, it does. Gone is the Aryan-looking Atlantean in green-and-orange spandex, replaced with a bare-chested Hawaiian super-stud with long, shaggy [...]

  • Issa Rae

    Issa Rae, Columbia Sign Multi-Picture Production Deal Promoting Diverse Screenwriters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Issa Rae’s production company, ColorCreative, has signed a multi-picture production deal with Columbia Pictures. The pact is unique in that under the agreement, ColorCreative will work with and back projects from emerging, diverse screenwriters. The move comes as the entertainment industry is under pressure to develop films and shows that feature underrepresented talent both in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content