on November 22, 1996 by Ed Scheid
   The characters in "Ridicule" have an obsession very different from the romantic fixations in director Patrice Leconte's previous efforts "Monsieur Hire" and "The Hairdresser's Husband." This film is about the obsession to succeed, in this case at the court of Louis XVI through the manipulation of wit. Ponceludon (Charles Berling) is a young baron who travels to the court of Louis XVI in late-eighteenth century France to petition the king to drain the swamps of his estate, where diseases have been killing the peasants. At court he finds a strange dictatorship, dominated by wit and aristocratic genealogy.
   Humor is used as a weapon at court, and skill with sarcastic put-downs is necessary to success. Ponceludon is intoxicated by the aristocratic atmosphere and is surprisingly adept at the verbal games. He is befriended by a doctor (Jean Rochefort) who keeps a categorized file of every witty remark he has heard. Ponceludon is attracted to the doctor's serious daughter Mathilde (Judith Godreche), an inventor experimenting with a primitive diving suit. He is also infatuated with the influential Countess de Blayac (Fanny Ardant, "Colonel Chabert"). "Ridicule" is a witty delight. The English subtitles effectively translate the screenplay's often savage humor, and the film's impressive production design is a colorful setting for amusing and intriguing period details, including a scene in which servants blow powder on the nude countess and one in which the hero's family tree is investigated before his audience with the king. The cast is exceptional, with relative newcomer Berling holding his own alongside several established French stars. Ardant is captivating as the seductive and manipulative countess; Rochefort, who starred in Leconte's "Hairdresser's Husband," gives his character both warmth and a fine comic flair. Starring Charles Berling, Jean Rochefort, Fanny Ardant, Judith Godreche AND Bernard Giraudeau. Directed by Patrice Leconte. Written by Remi Waterhouse with the collaboration of Michel Fessler and Eric Vicaut. Produced by Gilles Legrand, Frederic Brillion and Philippe Carcassone. A Miramax release. Comedy/drama. French-language; English subtitles. Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexuality and brief violence. Running time: 102 min. Screened at Cannes. Selected by France as the country's entry for best foreign film Oscar. Opens 11/27 limited; expands 12/6 to top 10 markets, 12/20 to top 25 markets, & 12/27 to top 40 markets
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