One and a Bit Musketeers
Rejoins me maintenant as we découvrir another new film from the exciting monde of étranger language cinéma. And if you think I'm keeping that up all the way through you've got another think coming. Remember what we said about how it seemed like people weren't making films based on some of those classic old stories any more? Well, our subject for today is Martin Bourboulon's The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan. As you are clearly an insightful and discriminating user of the internet, I am prepared to bet there is a fair chance you have figured out this is the umpty-tumpth adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' famous swashbuckler, although this one has been given extra authenticity, as not only are all the actors in it French, even the dialogue is in French. I think you can go a bit too far with this sort of historical accuracy, but it's too late now.
That subtitle may have tipped you off to the fact that this is only the first of a two-part adaptation of the novel, the second being due later this year. (You might expect this would mean 1.5 musketeers per film, but apparently not.) It's entirely possible that the idea of chopping the book in half has been taken from the Salkind-produced adaptations from fifty years ago (I feel old), which has long been regarded as a virtually perfect version of this story, in my house anyway. The new film is possibly closer in tone to the original book, even if there are some of the now-customary alterations to the storyline.
It is the late 1620s and the Thirty Years' War is in full swing. Young d'Artagnan (Francois Civil), a rustic lad from provincial Gascony, is on his way to Paris to hopefully become a musketeer when he comes across a young noblewoman being kidnapped by thugs. His heroic efforts to save her result in a misunderstanding and her shooting him at point-blank range. Luckily it is not a significant bullet, but his enemies leave him for dead (it soon transpires they are in the employ of the devious Milady de Winter (Eva Green, in what must be the no-brainer piece of casting for the year).
Any version of The Three Musketeers which sees d'Artagnan digging himself out of his own shallow grave in the first ten minutes is clearly intent on following a somewhat different path, but suddenly we are back in familiar territory as he arrives in Paris, goes to the barracks of the King's Musketeers, and thanks to a series of misfortunes finds himself scheduled to fight duels to the death against the three leading members of the corps, all that same day. His opponents are the brooding aristocrat Athos (Vincent Cassel), the hedonistic bisexual (it's 2023 in the film as well as 1627) Porthos (Pio Marmai), and aspiring Jesuit priest Aramis (Romain Duris), who wears a very extravagant hat and also apparently eye-liner.
'If I didn't have to kill you I'd buy you a drink,' says an amused Athos when he learns of d'Artagnan's exertions in the duel-fighting line, but of course the bad guys turn up so the quartet can fight them rather than each other. The others agree that they like the cut of d'Artagnan's jib and allow him into their little group. From here you would expect things to move fairly smoothly into the usual adventure of the Queen of France's affair with the English Duke of Buckingham, with incriminating diamond jewelry and a desperate race against time. But, instead there's a rather curious addition to the story, where Athos gets framed for murder and the other three have to turn detective and find out who is responsible and why. Quite what this adds to the story I'm not sure; the main consequence is that Athos gets less screen-time than usual for most of the film (maybe there were issues with Cassel's fee or availability).
Anyway, eventually we do get on to the bit with the diamonds, and after that the film ends – not especially elegantly – with d'Artagnan's girlfriend Constance (Lyna Khoudri, whom I suddenly realise I saw in Gagarine, a couple of years ago) and him being bopped on the head. TO BE CONTINUED says a big caption; the film clearly has one eye on the foreign market as most of the expository text is in English, in the version we're getting anyway.
Doing a better version of The Three Musketeers than Richard Lester and the Salkinds would be extraordinarily difficult, it seems to me – but, on the other hand, it's hard to imagine a worse attempt than the one perpetrated by Paul W.S. Anderson in 2011, which featured one of the musketeers wielding a flamethrower and a fleet of airships commanded by Orlando Bloom. This one is better than that, and also the Disney version from the mid-1990s, I think.
Obviously there have been some changes to the story, and Rochefort and Planchet have both been cut. But what makes it really distinctive is firstly a strong sense of historical authenticity, which is another way of saying that everything is various shades of brown, looks quite grimy, and would probably smell bad if the technology were there to project the odours into the auditorium. Obviously, this isn't entirely comprehensive, as modern sensibilities have to be taken into account – apparently present, though not prominent in this film, is a new character named Hannibal, who is a black musketeer who is going to get his own TV show, while of course there's also the bit about Porthos swinging more than his sword both ways. I suppose it is mildly surprising that a film about four heroic white dudes is even being made nowadays.
The other gimmick, for want of a better word, is the approach to the sword fights. Now, if you ask me, the sword fighting is one of the key attractions of a musketeers movie – if the fight choreography's no good, it's a major flaw. (There's another French movie called D'Artagnan's Daughter which I saw donkey's years ago, which suffered from exactly this problem.) Now, the fight choreography in this film is probably very good – but I have to say probably, because the director has a great fondness for showy-offy long takes whenever there's a fight, used in conjunction with what looks like a hand-held camera. As a result, while there is clearly a lot going on, it is a bit difficult to tell exactly what, as the camera keeps lunging about the place. It's probably trying to be stylish and distinctive – well, if it is, it's not necessarily in a good way.
Nevertheless there is some good casting here and the film has its own distinctive atmosphere, as well as some really good hats. If I had to preserve one version of this story for eternal posterity it would still be Richard Lester's, but this one passes the time fairly engagingly and there aren't any flamethrowers in it. I will probably be looking out for the conclusion when it appears later in the year.