Beatrice (1987)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Bertrand Tavernier.

Starring:    Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu (François de Cortemart), Julie Delpy (Béatrice de Cortemart), Nils Tavernier (Arnaud de Cortemart), Monique Chaumette (La mère de François), Robert Dhéry (Raoul), Michèle Gleizer (Hélène), Maxime Leroux (Richard), Jean-Claude Adelin (Bertrand Lemartin), Jean-Louis Grinfeld (Maître Blanche), Claude Duneton (Le Curé), Isabelle Nanty (La Nourrice), Jean-Luc Rivals (Jehan), Roselyne Vuillaume (Marie), Maïté Maillé (La Noiraude), Albane Guilhe (La Recluse).

set during the Hundred Year's War

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

A man carrying a boy rides up on a horse to the top of a hill.  They get off the horse and look at the view from the hill top.  People on horses and people walking come up to the top of the hill.

François de Cortemart was only ten years old when his father left for the war.  He tells his father that he wants to go to war along with him.  His father hands him a small sword and tells him to stay home and defend and protect his mother.  The young boy runs back to the castle and when he arrives he calls out for his mother.  He runs to her bedroom and sees her naked in bed with a man not her husband.  So he takes out his sword and stabs the man repeatedly.  His mother screams.   He tells his mother to dispose of the body.  He adds that his father was never avenged because mother never betrayed him.  His mother remains silent in her bed. 

François de Cortemart stays up in the church tower.  A monk calls out for him to come down from the tower.  He shouts that the lord of the manor is dead.  But François stays up in the tower for three full months.

And now the pretty Béatrice de Cortemart waits for the return of her father, but not with the same fervor that François had.  A mentally challenged boy named Jehan is with her.  He notices some men coming up the valley.  Beatrice says that buyers Maitre Blanche and Bertrand Lemartin are greedier than even the English!

The two run down to the castle and Beatrice start getting dressed up.  Her grandmother says Beatrice is dressing as if waiting for a lover.  She then says that Beatrice's magpie doesn't sing much lately.  Maybe the bird knows that Beatrice's father will be returning soon..  Beatrice replies:  "A crone like you would have let the whole castle go!"  She and the boy leave the room. 

They go down stairs and Beatrice tells Maitre Blanche that she gave him no orders about the tapestry.  He tells her that he left her fields alone and now they are untillable.  A young man, Bertrand Lemartin, asks if her father has been gone for a long time?  She says he's been away for four years.  She tells Maitre that he doesn't trust her land, and she doesn't trust his money  She wants him to stack up his coins on the table in niece columns and she will be back to count the coins.  She and Jehan leave. 

The grandmother asks so the land did not suffice?  Nor did Beatrice's beauty suffice?  Beatrice calls grandmother a witch and the woman slaps Beatrice's face hard.  Beatrice leaves.  She gets on a horse and rides out onto her lands.  She gets off her horse and ties a piece of red cloth around a piece of a branch still on the tree.  She prays that her brother Arnaud comes home to her. 

When Beatrice returns to the castle, she goes to the table where the coins are stacked up.  She sweeps some of the coins off the table saying that money is ephemeral unlike noble blood.  Bertrand says a butterfly is ephemeral too, but that's no reason to crush its wings.  Now Maitre Blanche asks her to sign the deed of sale.  She asks the young man if the English will keep their word.  He says the English always let their prisoners go.  So, Beatrice will see the release of her father and brother. 

Beatrice tells Jehan that both her brother and her father are very handsome men.  Her father has red hair and that's why grandmother hates him. 

When she returns grandmother says her brother and father are coming home on the night of a full moon. 

In the snow, father and son are coming home with some other men.  They stop for a woman who has just given birth to a baby.  It looks as though the baby girl is dead.  They take the woman with them riding across Arnaud's saddle. 

Beatrice rides out of the castle.  She sheds some tears as she waits at the top of the hill.  A boy call outs to her to follow him down the hill.  She goes with him.  At the top of a ridge she can see men setting up camp for the night.  She looks closely and then says:  "It's him."

The men have been spotted and now the staff of the castle start going crazy running around to get things prepared for their arrival.  Beatrice hugs a statue of Mary and baby Jesus and says thank you to them. 

The woman with the dead baby comes riding in first and she falls from the horse and lays there on the ground for a while.  Father and the men now arrive.  Father gets off his horse to look at the woman laying in the courtyard.  Then he sees the pretty Beatrice.  She calls out "father" but he really doesn't respond to her.  Then she sees her brother.  She goes over to him and starts kissing him again and again on his cheeks.  Meanwhile, father tells a servant to give the woman on the ground a place to sleep and some food.  Father stops briefly to tell grandmother to stay out of his way and let him enjoy being home again.  He leaves.

Arnaud comes to grandmother and she kisses him on the lips.  The whole family now go up and into the castle.  Father is so tired and worn out that he has to have one of the men help him over to sit down on a bench in front of the dinner table. 

At the dinner table father talks about their exploits.  He says the knights were thrown into great chaos when they were being massacred by the arrows of the vermin enemy.  It was a stupendous blunder.  He says he didn't even wound a single Englishman.  Arnaud never attacked.  He was petrified and alone on his horse.  Arnaud is a coward who lost control of his bowels.  Grandmother glares at father for telling this tale the way he did.  He tells her to eat up because there were no exploits for them.  Even the King ran from the battlefield.  Father then shoves Arnaud's face into his plate still filled with food. 

Father goes to rape the woman whose baby died.   He suddenly stops saying her rump is on fire and that's a sign of illness and death.  Jehan comes over to stroke the woman's face.

Beatrice comes over to speak with her father.  She asks him if he is as unhappy as he seems?  She says she never believed the stories about her father and how wicked he was.   He asks her and now what does she think of him?  She says she has loved him too much to hate him in one night.  He tells Beatrice that she should have been the son and not Arnaud. 

Beatrice stays up with her father almost all night.  Nearing the morning she defeats her father in a chess game.  Then she goes to get some sleep. 

Father hears Arnaud crying out in his sleep.  He goes to look in on Arnaud and finds Beatrice licking his face.  She tells Arnaud that he was too young to go to war.  Father goes back and wakes up a young man named Richard telling him it's almost daybreak and they should get going. 

Father sends a messenger to tell Beatrice that he wants to see her.  She goes to see him.  He is in the bath tub with servants adding hot water in.  He tells her he took a look at the fields that Beatrice sold recently.  He throws a big washrag at her and tells her to scrub him.  She takes the rag and starts washing him.  He says she acted in haste.  She could have sold just half of the land and that would have been sufficient to keep the castle.  She scrubs his back and then he tells her to scrub his feet.  She doesn't look too happy about it.  He kicks the rag from her hand and then tells her to dry him. 

Beatrice has been going out with Arnaud and Jehan every morning.  She asks him to teach her how to shoot the bow and arrow.  Arnaud helps her launch her first arrow.  A hawk alights on a big rock and Arnaud kills it with an arrow. 

When the hunters return to the castle Beatrice shows father the bird that Arnaud killed.  Father is still filled with rage against his son.  He grabs Beatrice forcefully and brings her face closely to his.  He says if the English were like Arnaud, there wouldn't be any war.  He tells them to feed the bird to the pigs. 

It starts to rain.  Beatrice sees Jehan out in the rain shivering.  She rushes out to rescue him. 

In the morning Beatrice wakes up nude.  (brief nudity)  She puts her night gown on and speaks a bit with grandmother.  Beatrice hears a lot of clinking and clanging and goes to investigate.  Men are taking or stealing the pots and pans and other items from the kitchen.  Now she goes to check on her father who is with Arnaud.  Father has Nicolette lay her upper body on a table.  Then he pulls up her skirt.  He wants Arnaud to have sex with the young woman.  He tries to get away from his father, but he pulls Arnaud back.  He forces Arnuad on top of the woman, but it's no use. Then he sees Beatrice watching and he grabs her forcefully and brings her over to the table.  He then takes Nicolette and Beatrice with him up to see grandmother. 

He grabs a bunch of dresses belonging to grandmother and tells Beatrice to choose a dress for Nicolette and the woman who lost her child.  Beatrice refuses saying the dresses don't belong to them.  Beatrice is scared of father and she runs behind grandmother for protection.  Father pulls the expensive necklace off off grandmother's neck and gives it to Nicolette. 

And now it's father who cries out in the night.  He screams:  "God and my love do not exist."  A little later he goes upstairs and grabs Beatrice out of her bed.  He forces her over to the statue of Mary and baby Jesus and tells her to ask for pardon for the sin that she will commit.  He forces her down on the floor and has sex with her.  He tells her that now she's a whore. 

In the morning she is nude. (some nudity and full nudity)  She runs to put heavy items up against her door so her father can't come in again.  Jehan tries to get in, but Beatrice tells him to go away.  She then tries to clean the blood off the floor, wipes herself and then burns her nightgown. 

Her father forces his way into her room, despite her curses against him.  He asks her what makes a harvest fail?  What causes the wrath of God?  Maybe it's impure love, he says. 

He next takes her up to the church tower.  He tells that God blesses their love.  Then he tells her to fast here for three days and three nights for cursing her father.  He leaves her at the top of the tower. 

Grandmother and Arnaud walk up the tower steps with food and drink for Beatrice.  Beatrice thinks the food is poisoned by her father, but the other two people eat some of the jam porridge without ill effects.  So she eats the jam porridge.

Grandmother sends Arnaud to the other side of the tower and she speaks by whispering in Beatrice's ear.  Her father's blood has corrupted her and only his death can cleans your wound.  Grandmother gives her a puppet with red hair to take to the witch. 

Her father returns and she runs to him and hugs him asking him to pardon her.  She then asks him for his amethyst ring as a token of his love and she will forever obey him. 

Beatrice goes to see a witch who lives in a cave.  The witch says that Beatrice has come here for the death of a kinsman.  The witch asks for some money and the puppet. 

After Beatrice leaves, her father shows up at the witch's cave. 

Beatrice tells her priest of her father having incest with her and forcing her to have sex.  She says that her father is the devil.  The priest says the only punishment they have for her father is excommunication and the consequent damning of his soul. 

Arnaud tells Beatrice that if their father dies, she and he will go to Jerusalem.  Beatrice runs and gives her brother a big hug. 

With so little money, father and his men become robbers.  They loot and burn a small village in the area.  Father goes into a building and fire and stay there.  His right hand man has to rush in there and pull him out. 

Father shows up back at the castle.  Beatrice screams when she sees him because she thought he was dead.  Father tells her to come over and feel his hand.  She touches it.  He's definitely alive.

Now father is going to marry Beatrice to the wealthy Bertrand Lemartin.  The man has promised to give father back his land.  He blackens Beatrice's face with soot so he won't see her blushes.  Then he tells her to disrobe.  (some full nudity)  Then he asks her if she will take her father as her husband?  She gasps at the suggestion.  He starts pawing her now. 

Now he calls the priest over to marry him to his daughter.  He tells the priest that's an order.  The priest won't do it, so he tells the priest to get out and go tell his Bishop to go ahead and excommunicate him.

Arnaud shoots an arrow into a tree as the priest walks along the forest path.  The priest stops walking and looks behind him and sees Arnaud standing there with his bow.  Arnaud says:  "The light is in Jerusalem." 

Beatrice talks to Marguerite a little girl who is a servant.  She tells Marguerite that Jehan is not going to return.  "He's a puppy revolted by stench." 

Jehan eats the manure and hay from cleaning out the stables. 

Beatrice takes a bath.  (brief nudity)  Her father walks in and throws a gown on a rack.  He tells her to put it on and come on down. 

Beatrice comes down to father with his guest, Bertrand Lemartin.  Grandmother comments:  "Shame if you give her to a commoner."  Father pushes Beatrice up to Bertrand and then leaves the room.  Bertrand says her father will give his daughter to him, if he can win her heart.  He is ready to worship and adore Beatrice only. 

Beatrice is very moved by Bertrand's sweet words to her.  She repeats them to the statue of Mary.  Her father comes in to say that Bertrand has left.  He wanted a virgin, but father told him that her father has already deflowered the virgin.  Betrand left saying he had thought Beatrice a virgin, but that's not the case now. 

Beatrice feels that she is pregnant.  She asks Arnaud to kick her in the stomach area.  Arnaud starts kicking her lightly.  She tells him to do it harder and he obliges her.  And now Beatrice is screaming in pain.  Her father comes riding up on his horse, get off the horse and pushes Arnaud away from Beatrice, who tells her father that she ordered Arnaud to kick her. 

As punishment, father dresses Arnaud in a woman's dress and makes him walk around in front of Beatrice.  He then takes him out to the courtyard.  He tells him to get running for he and his men are going to hunt Arnaud down like an animal.  Arnaud starts running. 

The hunting party includes some of the women of the castle, used as whores and called whores.  Beatrice has to go along for the hunt.  It doesn't take long before they catch up with Arnaud.  Now father tells the women to strip Arnaud of his clothing.  Beatrice slaps her father with her riding whip and then bolts from the place.  Father is going to go after Beatrice, but his right hand man tells him:  "No!" 

Down by a stream Beatrice sees Jehan.  She calls out to him, but he just turns his back to her and walks away.  Beatrice goes into a village where she sees a woman, tied to a ladder over a fire, in the process of being burned.  It's the witch whose help Beatrice had solicited to kill her father.  Her dress catches fire.  Beatrice rides away so she doesn't have to watch the woman burn.

Beatrice sees the dead bodies of two little boys from the castle hanging from the limb of a tree, executed for thievery.  Beatrice rides on. 

Beatrice finally finds Arnaud.  He asks her to take him away, but she says she is very weary now.  She then finds her two birds dead, probably killed by her father.  She says:  "My Lord God, I hate you."  She picks up the knife used to kill the birds.  She carries the birds and the knife to her father who is waiting for her in his bed.  He points to a spot on his chest and tells her to stab him there.  She stabs him there.  She smears the blood on her left hand on the face of the statue of Mary. 

 

When many think of the Medieval Ages, they think of noble knights and chivalry.  But not Bertrand Tavernier, the director of this film.   He sees this time as one of the tyranny of  the fortunate one, of incest, murder and obsession. 

Beatrice longs for the return of her father, who is held prisoner in England.  She romanticizes the future when she will be the princess of the castle.  But when her father actually returns, he is not the man Beatrice imagined him to be. Instead he is a man greatly disillusioned by war and now out for only his own self-interests.  Even Beatrice is not save from her father, who takes a sexual interest in her. 

She seeks protection from her father from others, such as the priest.  But these offer no protection for Beatrice.  So she has to turn to a witch and witchcraft.  But even the witch can't help her. 

The film is an effective antidote to romanticizing the Dark Ages complete with its chivalry and knighthood and brings us closer to reality. 

But in a larger sense, the film is a critique of feudalism where the Lord of the Manor reigned over the manor like a king and could be just as arbitrary and cruel as any bad king.  The whole system of the manors was unjust to most of the people who served on the manor.  And the Lord of the Manor could just about do anything he wanted to his peons and others.  And, of course, this feudalism was not just limited to France.  It was all over Europe.  Other countries also had feudal periods in their history marked by great injustice to the people working the feudal properties.

The film is very good because it does illustrate the horrors possible from life on the manors.  The evil man, the father, Lord of the Manor, was about as evil as a man can get.  At times it's a bit upsetting because you watch so much evil being committed by the father, even against his own children.  He was a monster.  I found myself longing for the character to be killed. 

Julie Delpy (as Béatrice de Cortemart) was very good.  Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu (as François de Cortemart) was good as the wicked father. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.    

 

 


Historical Background:

 

The Hundred Year's War between England and France (1337-1453)

See The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)

 

 

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