If “fencing is the art of conversation between arms,” then some men most certainly have sharper tongues than others — the Duke de Nevers, for instance. The Duke (Vincent Perez) is dashing, handsome and a master of the sword (or two). And although his father thinks he prefers boys (“Ever dabbled in sodomy?”), he’s smitten with Blanche de Caylus (Claire Nebout) and has at last been made aware of the bouncing, gurgling token of their love affair conceived months earlier. With absolute abandon, Nevers whips off his wig to battle the forces of gold-lust and jealousy, in the guise of his heir and cousin, Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini), to effect the honorable act of marrying the mother of his child, hooking up with assassin-turned-accomplice Lagardère (Daniel Auteuil) on the way.
In the spirit of Voltaire and Molière, On Guard volleys great wit and deadly gestures in a milieu of lush apparel, landscapes, captivating music and 18th-century lacy sleeves. From avant-garde to en garde, director and co-writer Philippe de Broca (King of Hearts, 1966) began his career assisting French New Wave directors François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol. De Broca, along with Jean Cosmos and Jérôme Tonnerre, has co-written a muscular and grandiloquent script based on Paul Féval’s novel. Combine that with the eye of an auteur and you have an impressive, swashbuckling spectacle with rich characters like our unlikely hero, Lagardère.
Auteuil possesses the ability to lunge from sword-wielding comedian to bearer of Victor Hugo-ian tragedy, carrying a babe in arms across a snowy tundra. The handsome — borderline foppish — Nevers returns from an attempt on his life only to demand his corridor be redecorated in calico. And the fancy Duke d’Orléans (Philippe Noiret) falls on his painted face in a playful clash of arms and then claims he slipped on a macaroon.
As the treacherous Gonzague puts it, this is “a grotesque fairy tale,” and treachery can be damned amusing, especially en garde.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W. of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].