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Euronews Culture's Film of the Week: 'The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan'

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan
The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan Copyright Pathé
Copyright Pathé
By Christian BOUDAREL
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On the strength of this first half, expectations should be tempered for the second part, The Three Musketeers: Milady, out in December...

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The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan is the latest adaptation of the famous book “The Three Musketeers” from acclaimed French writer Alexandre Dumas.

The source material has it all: conspiracy, action, duels, chases, heroes, villains, brotherhood and, of course, love. That is probably why it is Dumas' most celebrated story (alongside "The Count of Monte Cristo") and is one of the most adapted stories of all times and countries, whether in cinema, TV, comics, animated cartoons and even two pornographic titles.

It is one of the biggest releases for French cinema this year, with a budget surpassing even that of Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom - also produced by Pathé.

Bringing back to life the “cape et d’épée” (cloak-and-dagger) genre is a great idea. Once popular in cinemas, the genre has gradually faded.

This kind of movie brings me back to my childhood and made me quite curious. I thought to myself: “It could be a great showcase for French “savoir faire” in the Seventh Art, allowing the country’s best talent to reclaim their source novel.”

So, let’s cut to chase.

Your average cinemagoer will probably get their kicks. The job is competently done and it’ll entertain for the duration of its 2-hour runtime. For the more demanding viewer, however, this version has its issues and may leave audiences hungry for more.

In order to dust off the intrigue, the screenwriters have decided to make some changes and introduce new ideas. For example, Portos is bisexual, and the religious separation between the French Catholic and Protestant linked with Britain is more obvious than in previous adaptations.

The reconstitution of the 17th century is top notch. The Parisian streets and people look dirty - as they probably were at the time - and this marks a sizeable difference from the usual representation of Paris Hollywood tends to shove down our throats. D’Artagnan’s threads are caked in dust and filth, and his skin (for at least the first 30 minutes) leaves much to be desired. Again, we’re miles away from the romanticized version of the musketeers seen in Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer The Man in the Iron Mask or Paul W. S. Anderson’s disastrous The Three Musketeers. The costumes mirror the authenticity of the film’s sets, and the designers are to be applauded for their excellent work.

The enviable cast – featuring Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris and Pio Marmaï playing Athos, Aramis and Portos respectively – do a decent job, with Marmaï shining brightest. François Civil is a good d’Artagnan, as he brings a youthful energy to the role. As for Louis Garrel, he is the MVP and clearly has a great time playing Louis XIII. The same could be said for Eva Green, perfect for the role of the villainous Milady, and Eric Ruff as Richelieu.

Sadly, all are underused and underfed by the script and direction, since director Martin Bourboulon has decided to focus on the action instead of meaningful character development. The players end up feeling monolithic and the narrative bafflingly falls flat. This is particularly glaring when it comes to the scheming Richelieu and the venomous Milady in this first part of a planned diptych.

Who knows? It might be different in the second instalment, since it is titled The Three Musketeers: Milady.

The other bum note – and much more galling for me – are the fight scenes. The director chooses to put the spectator close to the action, with the camera lodged inside the action sequences. It’s too much and far too close for comfort, and the overall effect is a muddled one. Where are the thrusts, the lunges, the parries, the sweeps, the blocks? In short, where are skirmishes that make the genre such a delight to watch? Did they not put the actors through some intense training?

It is difficult to say more since it’s a two-part movie, so let’s wait for next chapter of the adventures of our famous four musketeers. Part II comes out in December, and on the strength of this first half, expectations should be tempered.

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan is out in cinemas now.

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