Wednesday, 19 January 2011


"The Horseman on the Roof", by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, DVD, 1995, Metrodome Distribution

The Horseman on the Roof”, (1995) is Jean-Paul Rappeneau's free adaptation of Jean Giono's novel "Le hussard sur le toit", written between 1945 and 1950 and published in 1951. Adapted for the first time by Cyrano of Bergerac's director (1990), “The Horseman on the Roof”, is a romantic and historical drama that shares the same lyrical and tumultuous atmosphere with "Cyrano of Bergerac". It is the story of Angelo Pardi, a young horseman officer from an aristocratic Italian family, exiled from his homeland in search for another compatriot, Maggionari, to warn him of danger. Pardi's country is struggling with the aftermath of Napoleon's fall (1832), when Austria is trying to take control of Italy. He escaped to southern France, only to discover that an acute cholera epidemic ravaged the country. He then found himself fighting against all sorts of enemies: the cholera, the Austrian mercenaries sent after him, the frightened and violent villagers and the French army combing the countryside, seeking those who try to escape the quarantine imposed by the government.

Angelo's escape will finally lead him to a seemingly deserted house in Manosque, where he will meet Pauline de Théus (mysterious and determined Juliette Binoche), the young and beautiful wife of a much older marquis (Paul Freeman, in an impressive guest appearance). The two decide to team up and travel the French countryside, each hoping to achieve a personal goal: Pauline to find her old husband, Angelo to return to Italy with money for the Carbonari's political struggle. Like in Rappeneau's "Cyrano of Bergerac", “The Horseman on the Roof”, is not short of thrilling situations, all experienced - and filmed too - with a sense of panache that alone would make this movie worthy of our attention. To some extent, that I wondered who or what is the real hero in this passionate story: Angelo and Pauline or the stunningly beautiful Provence and Rhône-Alpes landscapes? Or perhaps, it is more Giono's and Rappeneau's way of using Provence as a living character; it too full of passion, violence, dangerous and generous in the same manner, bathed in a golden light that seems to act as a developer for people's truest nature.

Whatever the answers to these questions, “The Horseman on the Roof”, is worth the ten Cesar Awards - two won for best cinematography and best sound - it was nominated for. Besides the beautiful, romantic swashbuckling and epic costume adventure that it is, “The Horseman on the Roof”, succeeded in what many other similar movies of the genre have failed. It has such a haunting atmosphere you will probably - if you are a daydreamer like me - find yourself prolonging the adventure in both your head and your heart. Why is that? Well, it could be because of the Jean-Claude Petit's soundtrack, which is a pure gem, or it could be because of the main characters, who are true and deep enough, they became as close to you as any other real person would.

To summarize: “The Horseman on the Roof”, is an expensive movie, in fact, the biggest French movie production ever. It was shot in more than 60 different locations in Provence, required about 100 movie sets, as well as 1000 extras. It has action, romance, thrills and is supported by an excellent screenplay and an attention to production details that makes for a glorious and exciting movie experience. Anything else? Indeed, the movie is presented in two different versions: a French one and the UK one - with a 28 minute interview with Jean-Paul Rappeneau - which is not region encoded. It is presented anamorphically in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The original audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and it is fine, as are the UK uncut version with English - non-removable though - subtitles and the beautiful case picture. Final word? Exhilarating!

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