Vatel (2000)

 

 

Director:  Roland Joff

Starring:  Grard Depardieu (Franois Vatel), Uma Thurman (Anne de Montausier), Tim Roth (Marquis de Lauzun), Timothy Spall (Gourville), Julian Glover (Prince de Cond), Julian Sands (Louis XIV), Murray Lachlan Young (Philippe d'Orleans), Hywel Bennett (Colbert), Richard Griffiths (Dr. Bourdelot), Arielle Dombasle (Princess de Cond), Marine Delterme (AthenaVs de Montespan), Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu (Duchesse de Longueville), Jrme Pradon (Marquis d'Effiat), Fodor Atkine (Alcalet), Nathalie Cerda (Queen Marie-ThrPse).

the French nobility act like spoiled brats who waste their nation's resources in their excesses to the detriment the commoner Vatel who is the real nobility

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

The aide to his Majesty King Louis XIV, the Marquis de Lauzun, writes a letter to Prince de Cond้ telling him that  his Majesty will accept an invitation to visit him at Chantilly for three days.  This sends Prince de Cond้ into a frenzy of activity because everything must be grand and perfect.  Luckily for him he has a very reliable staff manager, Franois Vatel.  The stakes are big.  The King does not really care for Cond้, but there may be war with Holland and in that case the King will need the man because he is the best general in France. 

Arriving with the King is, of course, the Queen and the King's brother, but there is also a bevy of beauties accompanying them: Anne de Montausier, the Duchessee de la Valliere and Marquise de Montespan among them. 

Vatel starts the process of getting prepared for the three days of festivities, but he is immediately met with an obstacle.  A group of merchants led by Alcalet arrive to tell Vatel that either they get paid or there will be nothing on credit any more.  Vatel has to explain that the Prince is bankrupt, but if the merchants will help Vatel present a grand presentation for the King then the royal coffers will open and Cond้ will be able to pay them.  The merchants reluctantly agree.

Another problem arises for Vatel.  The King's brother is fond of young boys and he wants Vatel to let him use one of kitchen boys.  Vatel refuses to give the boy to the man.  Another problem arises.  The Princess has been bitten by one of the monkeys used to help make a big impression.   

Prince Cond้ sends for Vatel.  The Prince tells Vatel that the Marquis de Lauzun told him that he (Vatel) had been insolent to the King's brother and the Marquis himself.  The Prince suggests that Vatel accommodate the guests as much as he can. 

The King spends the night not with the Queen (because he had serviced her a couple of days ago), but with Anne de Montausier.  The Marquis de Lauzun also wants Anne.  (Anne herself is interested in Vatel and Vatel has also noticed her.)  The Marquis tells Vatel that he must prepare a superb presentation piece of fancy sweets in the shape of flowers and fruits so that the Marquis can give it to and impress Anne.  Vatel refuses to do it but the pressure put on Vatel forces him to make the presentation piece.  When the valet presents the gift to Anne, she refuses it.  She wants nothing to do with the Marquis. 

Vatel faces still another challenge.  The King's brother and his men are playing with one of the presentation pieces, a giant model of a whale.  Vatel protests against the abuse of the whale and the King's brother tells him that royalty gets very cross if they are not allowed their pleasures.

Vatel makes a beautiful presentation piece of sweets for Anne and has it sent to her along with a note.  Anne is pleased. 

Envoys from Holland arrive to speak with the King of France. At the time the King is playing cards with Prince Cond้.  The King has been so impressed by the wonderful food and entertainment presented by Vatel that he wants to have Vatel for himself at Versailles.  The King bets Cond้ the palace at Versaillles, but asks Cond้ to bet Vatel.  The hand is won by the King and Cond้ agrees to have Vatel go to Versailles.  The King then confers with the envoys from Holland, the result of which is that there will be war with Holland. 

Vatel learns that he must go to Versailles, but he says: "I cannot.  I cannot leave my people."  A bit later a group of men try to give Vatel a beating.  They tell him that the Marquis de Lauzun sends him a message.  But just as the struggle begins, a group of men faithful to the King's brother intervene and fence with the men fighting with Vatel.  Many of the assaulter are stabbed or run off. When Vatel returns to his room he finds Anne waiting for him.  She goes to bed with Vatel, but during the night Anne receives the message that the King wants to see her.  Just before she leaves Vatel's room, she tells him that Cond้ had given him away at the card table.  As Anne approaches the King's chamber, the Marquis stops her.  He blackmails her.  She must agree to have sex with him or he will tell the King that Vatel had sex with her and Vatel would be sent to prison.  To protect Vatel, Anne reluctantly has sex with the extortionist.     

Vatel tells his staff that today's banquet will be his last.  While the staff busily works, Vatel kills himself.  His associate delivers his message to Anne and she learns of his self-inflicted death.  She is obviously very upset.  The note explained to her that he was not the master of the festivities, but rather its slave. 

The banquet was a complete success.  Cond้ gets his command.  Anne left by a side gate and never returned to court.

 

Good movie.  The point of the movie is to dramatize the great excesses along with the great arrogance of the King and the nobility.   The King invites himself and his retinue to three days of festivities at the expense of a bankrupt prince.  At the festivities the King engages in adulteries with different women and his brother tries to have sex with the kitchen boys.  The nobility treat the commoner Vatel with great disrespect.  He is just a commodity like the food and entertainment which they expect to be provided freely because of their rank.  The three days of festivities illustrate the great waste of resources for the passing pleasures of the very spoiled and childish nobility.  No wonder the French people revolted and put many of the nobility to death.  And no wonder Vatel killed himself.  He knew he would be miserable and would by treated horrendously by the spoiled brats of the nobility at the Palace of Versailles.  Grard Depardieu as Franois Vatel was excellent. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

 

See La Prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV (The Rise of Louis XIV) (1966).

 

Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Cond

1621 – the future Louis II de Bourbon born in Paris.

He studied at the Jesuits’ College at Bourges.

1638 – at age seventeen, he governed Burgundy. He was called the duc d'Enghien.

1640 and 1641 – Louis II of Burgundy distinguished himself in the campaigns in northern France while still under twenty years of age.

Cardinal Richelieu was a very powerful man at the time. Although Louis II was in love with Mlle Marthe du Vigean, his father forced him to give his hand in marriage to Richelieu's niece, 13 year old Claire Clnce de Maill.

He was present with Richelieu during the plot of Cinq Mars against the Cardinal.

1642 – he fought in the siege of Perpignan where France took the land from the Spain.

1643 – Louis II was the commander against the Spaniards in northern France.

1643 (May 19) – under the command of Louis II, in the Battle of Rocroi, the supremacy of the Spanish army was ended. France now dominated the military scene. Louis II was able to return to Paris a hero. He then started a series of extramarital affairs.

1644 – he was sent with reinforcements to the assistance of commander Turenne in Germany.

1644 (August) – the French won the Battle of Freiburg over the Bavarians.

1645 – Mercy was victorious at Turenne, but was defeated (and killed) at Nardlingen. Louis II received several serious wounds. He then led the campaign that captured Philippsburg.

1646 – he captured Dunkirk.

1646  --  fearing Louis II's growing power, Cardinal Mazarin tried to undermine his reputation and had some initial success. 

1646 (August 19) – at the battle at Lens in the Low Countries, he won the day, and regained his prestige.

1648  -- end of the Thirty Years' War.  In France, this was followed by a French civil war, known as the Fronde.  Cardinal Mazarin issued a tax on members of Parliament and many of the nobles revolted.  Rioting broke out in Paris.  Queen Anne and her son fled Paris.  Queen Anne then called on Louis II to aide her.  Louis II was successful tin his assault on Paris. 

Louis II was a difficult man to like.  He soon earned the enmity of Queen Anne.

1650  --  Louis II was arrested. 

1650  --  the Second Fronde.  The French, king, Louis XIV, was left with a deep distrust of the nobles and the mob

1651  --  Queen Anne was forced to release Louis II.   

1652 (September)  --  Louis II joined in with the Spanish forces. 

1658 (June 14)  --  Louis II suffered a disastrous defeat at the Dunes near Dunkirk.  Spain now negotiated for peace. 

1659  --  King Louis XIV pardoned Louis II, but it would takes years before Louis XIV trusted him again.

1668  --  he proposed to the minister of war, a plant to seize the Rhine passage at Tolhuis.  He was severely wounded.  He then commanded in Alsace against the Imperialists. 

1673  --  he was again engaged in the Low Countries.

1673  --  with Turenne, Louis II was the principal French commander in the celebrated campaign against the Dutch.

1674 (August 11)   --  he fought in the great Battle of Seneffe against the prince of Orange (afterwards William III of England). 

1676  --  his last campaign was on the Rhine, where he repelled the invasion of the Imperial army of Montecuccli.   

He retired to his home in Chantilly where he spent the last eleven years of his life. 

1686 (November 11)  --  at age 65, he died. 

 

 

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