Triumph of Love

May 8, 2002 at 12:00 am

Inside a shadowed, cramped carriage on the move, two 18th century French ladies unlace each other’s dresses, roll off their stockings and wrap their breasts as they giggle impishly. Triumph of Love’s first scene is promising — but in the next, you’re bombarded with a lifetime of important plot information as you watch these ladies, dressed as men, climb over a wall, and try to digest what’s going on.

The princess (Mira Sorvino) has fallen in love, but with the worst possibility on earth, Agis (Jay Rodin). He just happens to be the son of the hapless king and queen that the princess’ parents, now ruling, had overthrown. The rightful king died in prison and his queen died soon after; but the son was whisked away and raised by the woman-hating, love-hating, princess-hating philosopher Hermocrates (Ben Kingsley) and his sister, Leontine (Fiona Shaw). The princess is riddled with guilt, mischief and amour, hoping to overcome all fateful circumstances with a clever, highly unlikely plot that quickly morphs into a “Three’s Company” of the 1700s.

Like its main character, Triumph of Love isn’t sure what it’s really trying to be. The script was adapted from an 18th century play by Marivaux (Le Triomphe de l’amour), but the writers forgot to release the shackles of the stage. Its driving force relies on heavy dialogue instead of delegating information through visual means. It slightly toys with the idea of being a play by flashing shots of an audience once or twice, but the reference comes off as contrived, confusing and a weak justification for the movie’s limitations.

The whole film seems rushed because Sorvino is running from one victim of love to another, as if she knows she has a two-hour time limit and isn’t allowed to leave the set until everyone wants to marry her. Director Clare Peploe (Rough Magic, High Season) could have balanced the film better, instead of rushing through early circumstance-heavy scenes and giving later, less important scenes the most attention.

Aside from the lush costumes and settings, which pleasantly resemble a Fragonard painting, it’s hard to believe Bernardo Bertolucci produced and co-wrote the film, and although Sorvino’s unitoned performance successfully seduces most of the characters, it takes more than words to seduce an audience.

Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].