Thursday, May 8, 2014

Queen of the Damned

Queen Margot 4K Restoration Director's Cut (1994/2013) - Chéreau
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Famed French stage and film director Patrice Chéreau (Intimacy, Gabrielle, Those Who Loved Me Can Take the Train) passed away last October. Now Queen Margot, Chéreau's most commercially successful film, gets a 4K restoration treatment on its 20th anniversary and comes back to theaters, thanks to Cohen Film Collection. This timely release is a rare opportunity to experience what many consider as the most radical redefining act in the period costume drama genre ever, in 4K digital glory. Queen Margot 4K Director's Cut receives a theatrical run here in New York, May 9 - 15 at Film Forum.

Based on Alexandre Dumas's novel, Queen Margot tells a bloody chapter in French history when a war between Catholics and Protestants was raging. The main players in this tumultuous time are weakly Catholic King Charles IX, his domineering mother Catherine of Medici, her other two cunniving sons, their sister Margot, her reluctant husband Henry of Navarre, the leader of Protestants, and La Môle, Margot's Protestant lover.

In the guise of truce, venomous Catherine arranges the marriage between Henry and Margot and invites Henry's cohorts into Paris. Then she masterminds the St. Batholomew's Massacre which turns Paris streets into an open tomb of 6,000 dead bodies of Protestants overnight.

Queen Margot is not your grandma's costume drama. It's a bloody, violent, sweaty, dirty epic with a lot of nudity and sex. While Chéreau and co-writer Danièle Thompson stay true to most of Dumas's writing, it's the dizzing, bravura filmmaking that takes a center stage. The visceral massacre scenes with all its arterial sprays and loose limbs don't really have an equal in cinema to this day when it comes to sheer scope.

The cast is also ridiculous here. Actors assembled for the film were a who's who of 90s French cinema: Isabelle Adjani (at the peek of her beauty) plays Margot, Jean-Hugues Anglade provides an unhinged performance as the tragic king, Daniel Auteuil plays righteous Henry of Navarre, Virna Lisi won the Cannes Best Actress Award for her icy performance as Catherine of Medici, Pascal Greggory dons grungy hair and a goatee (a dead ringer for Chris Cornell of Soundgarden era) as a dashing mama's boy Anjou, Vincent Perez as hunky La Môle, the star-crossed lover of Margot and baby Asia Argento as a sexy sacrificial lamb, the duchess of Sauve.

Pathé restored Queen Margot under the supervision of Chéreau and editor François Gedigier in 2013. The task was entrusted to the Eclair Group laboratories for the image and L.E. Diapason for the sound. The version that is shown today is based on the Director's Cut released on French DVD in 2007. Several additional editing tweaks, desired by Chéreau, further enrich this new version.

Here are excerpts from the press release on 4K restoration:

The image restoration was conducted in 4K resolution based on the original 35mm negative. Although slightly damaged, the negative retained a beautiful photographic quality, especially when it comes to the shadows and the chiaroscuros of the interiors, as well as the dawns and the dusks of the exteriors. The 4K resolution enabled us to recover all the information from the 35mm film and bring back all the finesse and contours of Philippe Rousselot's photography to the screen.

Color grading, still under Patrice Chéreau's supervision, required three weeks of work. Queen Margot's sound mixing did evolve from version to version, with the music namely taking an ever growing importance. Today's version is based on the music that appears in the 2007 Director's Cut, converted into a format adapted to digital projection. The powerful dynamics of the original soundtrack were painstakingly preserved.

I haven't seen the film since its original, theatrical version in 1994. Seeing the unblemished, crisp images without cigarette burns is almost unnerving. The film was amazingly shot by master cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (Henry & June, A River Runs Through It, Big Fish, Sherlock Holmes) to begin with. This kind of cinematic quality - depth of colors and contrast, in my humble opinion, is still achievable only by shooting on 35mm. The film is beautifully preserved through the 4K transfer.

After 20 years, Queen Margot still remains to be a ridiculous film in many ways - ridiculous in its scope, ridiculous in its over-the-top romanticism, ridiculous in its depiction of sex and violence with ridiculously gorgeous cinematography and ridiculously attractive actors. Watching this film on the big screen is a chance you don't want to miss!

In addition to New York screening, Cohen Media Group is rolling out the film in LA on May 16 at Laemmle Music Hall.

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