Ridicule [1996]

In Patrice Leconte's cool, precise moral comedy Ridicule, the corrupt, sycophantic court of King Louis XVI is invaded by a provincial nobleman, Ponceludon de Malavoy (Charles Berling), who with the help of his own sharp tongue, the coaching of the retired courtier Marquis de Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort), and the love of the Marquis's beautiful, nature-loving daughter (Judith Godrèche) hopes to win funds for his project to drain the fever-infested swamps of his homeland. But first he has to get by the cunning, sexually manipulative Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant, imperious and superb) and her waspish, priestly ally, the Abbot de Vilecourt (Bernard Giraudeau). As shaped by screenwriter Rémi Waterhouse, Ridicule is a kind of dashing verbal swashbuckler in which duels aren't fought with swords, but with the equally fatal weapon of words--rapier wit in its most literal sense. Laconte directs with an appealing elegance and a scathing sobriety as he unfolds a fable that could just as easily take place in a Wall Street boardroom, a Park Avenue executive suite, or a Hollywood commissary. --Dave Kehr

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