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The Red Knight

A knight who can't call it a day copes with the moral baggage of immortality in "The Red Knight," a medieval tale that's as stiff as rusty chain mail and seemingly as long as the Crusades. Except for chivalry-themed fests and Auteuil completists, offshore spoils look as likely as a consumer boom in illuminated manuscripts.

A knight who can’t call it a day copes with the moral baggage of immortality in “The Red Knight,” a medieval tale that’s as stiff as rusty chain mail and seemingly as long as the Crusades. Pic fails to convince despite magnificent widescreen vistas and an earnest A-list cast headed by Daniel Auteuil in the title role. Except for chivalry-themed fests and Auteuil completists, offshore spoils look as likely as a consumer boom in illuminated manuscripts.

Sophomore feature from Helene Angel (“Skin of Man, Heart of Beast,” 1999) must have sounded tragic and poetic on paper but comes perilously close to Monty Python territory in the telling. Plenty silly, but not silly enough to qualify as campy fun, ambitious venture registers as a protracted bad idea.

Fifteen-year-old Felix (Nicolas Nollet) dreams of tagging along with Guillaume de Montauban (Auteuil), an immortal knight whose exploits are laid out in a priceless illustrated book the youngster stole from a monastery.

Legend says the adolescent Guillaume carried his best friend, Raoul, out of a raging forest fire started by a dragon. Guillaume’s body was horribly burnt and pocked by his red-hot chain mail, dooming him to a chaste future. But his heart never stopped burning, and drove him crazy.

Gung-ho Felix hooks up with his hero who is hunting down a poet named Hughes de Pertuys (Titoff) for the Pope (Jean-Francois Gallotte).

Guillaume is saddled with lumpy, seemingly retarded Raoul (Sergi Lopez), who turns into a snorting wild boar each night but, afflicted with amnesia, can’t recall his beastly transformation the following day. Apparently, Raoul has had this problem since Guillaume killed Raoul’s beloved wife, Isabelle (Claude Perron), by walling her up alive.

In stagey encounters, the path of the nasty Mespoulede (Gilbert Melki) keeps crossing Guillaume’s long enough to announce he’s going to kill Guillaume someday, but not right now. Meanwhile, a Mother Superior, Gisela (Emmanuelle Devos), who has cheated on her marriage to God, leaves her convent and falls into enemy hands.

Too literal-minded to mirror the imaginative dimension of reading, and too arbitrary to qualify as a rites-of-passage saga, narrative boils down to little more than stranded archetypes mired in majestic settings. With an excellent cast but wobbly script, helmer Angel tries hard to weave a spell but keeps riding past the loom. Except for the sober Auteuil, thesps seem rudderless.

Still, Benoit Delhomme’s lensing, comprised almost exclusively of exteriors, is highly attractive, and Philippe Miller’s classical-style score, laced with bells and chimes, is appealing.

The Red Knight

France

  • Production: A Diaphana release of a Diaphana Films, France 3 Cinema, Gimages, Rhone Alpes Cinema, Samsa Films production, in association with France Televisions Images 2 and Sofinergie 5, with participation of Canal Plus, the Rhone-Alpes Region, CNC, Cineart, Alta Films, Hachette Filippacchi Films. (International sales: France Televisions Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Michel Saint Jean. Directed by Helene Angel. Screenplay, Angel, Jean-Claude Janer, Agnes De Sacy.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Benoit Delhomme; editor, Pauline Dairou; music, Philippe Miller; art director, Thierry Francois; costume designer, Catherine Rigault; sound (Dolby), Jean-Jacques Ferran, Stephane Thiebault; assistant director, Philipe Larue; 2nd unit director, Marc Olry. Reviewed at MK2 Odeon, Paris, Aug. 15, 2003. Running time: 106 MIN.
  • With: Guillaume de Montauban - Daniel Auteuil Felix - Nicolas Nollet Raoul de Ventadour - Sergi Lopez Gisela von Bingen - Emmanuelle Devos Hughes de Pertuys - Titoff Mespoulede - Gilbert Melki <b>With:</b> Maurice Garel, Claude Perron, Fred Proust, Jean-Francois Gallotte.