LA NUIT DE VARENNES (Ettore Scola, 1982)

Marcello Mastroianni’s aging, dissolute, debt-ridden, heavily powdered, exhausted, painfully thoughtful Casanova, Chevalier de Seingalt, is the principal reason for seeing Ettore Scola’s sadly mediocre La nuit de Varennes, a lavish exercise that takes us to the crossroads of history and what if . . . ? In June 1791 the French King and Queen, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, attempt to evade their political fates by sneaking out of France in a private coach—an actual event; meanwhile, other passengers fill an ordinary coach, (except in the case of one passenger) coincidentally taking the same route. Those in the non-royal coach discuss matters from both historical and philosophical perspectives, including at stops along the way; among the passengers are pornographer/author Restif de La Bretonne (Jean-Louis Barrault, no less), something of an aging Casanova himself, American firebrand Thomas Paine (Harvey Keitel—a casting mistake), who has paid for political pamphlets that Restif hasn’t printed and delivered, and Countess Sophie de la Borde (Hanna Shygulla, stunning, poignant, and at the peak of her beauty). Both coaches at the same time reach Varennes, where the royals are arrested and returned to revolutionary Paris for what Dick Cheney, smirking, would call “a little decapitation.”
     The talky, intermittently interesting script by Sergei Amidei and Scola won the David di Donatello Award as the year’s best.
     A fine, grisly touch: a public performance, titled “The New World,” involving a box whose descending mini-sets mimic the swift descents of Mme Guillotine. If only there were as much visual consideration throughout the film as there is, memorably, here.
     From Italy and France.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.

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