This week I was planning on reviewing some Oscar noms, but so much has been said about them that I didn’t feel like being an echo-chamber, so I went on Netflix and picked a random film from the romantic category. Nearly all my favourite love stories are period dramas. I think that’s because the costumes and Shakespearean dialogue lets you get away with a few more clichés. The Triumph of Love (2001) embraces the clichés, and delivers on all the good ol’ ones.
The film is based on a play by Pierre de Marivaux from 1732, but doesn’t appear to have been very popular when it premiered. I can see how it could have disturbed sensibilities then, but the shock has long since worn off. The story is about the Princess of Sparta, who falls in love with the beautiful, young Agis. He is actually the rightful ruler of the land because his late father was usurped by the Princess’ uncle. Being in love, she decides to restore Agis’ throne by making him fall in love with her. Only one problem: his guardian Hermocrates, played by Ben Kingsley, has forbidden contact with the fairer sex, and taught him to hate her with a passion. To get close, she and her servant disguise themselves as men and pretend to be philosophy students seeking Hermocrates’ teachings. In order to convince them to allow her to remain on the property, she manages to seduce not only Hermocrates, but also his sister Leontine. But will the one she actually wants fall for her as well?
The story follows the original play pretty much, so there is a lot of flowery language and over-the-top acting, but if you’re like me and enjoy a bit of old-school theatre, this will only amuse. The set and designs are beautiful, and to further emphasize the film’s origin, we sometimes glimpse an audience viewing the action as if it was a recorded play. Many times a scene will be set up like a stage. Most of the action takes place in a beautiful baroque garden complex, and the maze-like structure is a perfect setting for the traditional eavesdropping of old plays.
The costumes are beautiful as well, and although the Princess is far too pretty to ever be mistaken for a man (“wouldn’t deceive a child” – to quote Shakespeare in Love), the style of the play again makes this forgivable. Personally, I might have slapped on a fake moustache just to help the modern audience out a little. I know they all wore long wigs and effeminate clothing, but we can still see her make-up.
That said, Mira Sorvino, who plays the Princess, does a great job of seducing everyone. Her scenes with Ben Kingsley are particularly hilarious. But it is Fiona Shaw, playing his sister, who gets most of my laughs. Her character is a spinster who is shocked that a beautiful young man would want her, and her “coming out” as a sexual being is perfectly over-the-top. The only one of the main characters who didn’t draw me in was Agis, played by Jay Rodan. I know he is suppose to be this perfect youth with nothing much in the way of personality, but I felt he could have played it up a bit. He is either stone-faced or a schoolboy. She is suppose to fall in love with him at first sight, but the movie makes it seem like she falls in love with his naked arse. He has one good scene where they talk about their feelings, but if you don’t like that comedia del arte style, you probably won’t like it.
I think the ending is a bit drawn out, and I suspect the original play was much more “happily ever after” a few lines after the whole scheme is revealed. Considering how close to the original the mood of the film was up to that point, I think the false ending pulled me out of it a bit. There was a nice little added ending for Hermocrates and his sister, however. Agis, on the other hand, just doesn’t convince me he’s in love, so the ending falls slightly flat, even when the Princess is almost convincing enough for the two of them.
The Triumph of Love or Le Triomphe de l’amour, which sounds so much better, won’t be included in any “favourite period film” list. But if you’re sick of all the others one Friday night, this one can draw a few laughs, and you can visit the age of the comedies of errors. Today’s rom-coms do not measure up to the classics in my book. They’re both a bit of mindless, illogical entertainment, but the fancy dress just adds a bit of class and a touch of innocence.
Dice roll: 3