Monsieur N.

"Bad"

Monsieur N. Review


No movie to my mind has made such a disaster of the voiceover device as Antoine de Caunes' Monsieur N. In fact, the movie should be cited in Screenwriting 101 courses as an example of how, when in the service of a poorly conceived story, the voiceover can become a go-to device for filling in expository and emotional nuances that the script fails to convey. The voiceover in Monsieur N. belongs to a young British aide-de-camp, Basil Heathcote (Jay Rodan), who is assigned to monitor Napoleon's (Philippe Torreton) daily activities during the latter's imprisonment on St. Helena between 1815 and 1821, the year Napoleon supposedly died. Manzor intersperses the script with Heathcote's voiceover, favoring his intimate impressions without sufficiently fleshing him out as a character or developing any sense of why he particularly matters. In director Antoine de Caunes' fidgety hands, what is meant to be a suspenseful lark into historical revisionism quickly becomes an earnest and thudding bore.

Manzor's script grafts upon this movie a Citizen Kane-type structure as it shunts us between the occasion of Napoleon's exhumation in Paris in 1840 and 20 years earlier, during Napoleon's island imprisonment. Upon his exhumation, the question is raised of how Napoleon died -- from an ulcer or slow poisoning? -- and whether Napoleon died at all -- or, as rumor has it, he foisted his butler Cipriani's body in place of his own and escaped to an anonymous life elsewhere. To find out, Heathcote questions Napoleon's mistress, Albine (Elsa Zylberstein), and the few officers who attended to him on St. Helena, as well as the British governor, Hudson Lowe (Richard E. Grant), once in charge of Napoleon's imprisonment and now reduced to an aging and disgraced wreck. Their reflections -- alternately wistful and caustic -- cue us to extended flashbacks of those island years and of Napoleon's shrewdly enigmatic persona. There is also the question of Betsy Balcombe (Siobhan Hewlett), an English merchant's daughter on St. Helena with whom Napoleon has an affair -- much to Albine's chagrin and Heathcote's too, for we're meant to believe that Heathcote's also smitten with her. But his gambit, at one point, to express his feelings to her is laughable, because it's such an obvious ploy by Manzor to bring his character to some turn-of-fate, having arrived here using voiceovers as a shortcut device and never treading the hard road of character development to earn his way.

Why Heathcote is particularly driven into this story's events is anyone's guess. Had Manzor and de Caunes developed a sympathetic bond between the naïve Heathcote and Napoleon, the broken warrior, and between Heathcote and the lovelorn Betsy, that might've justified his motive to investigate Napoleon's past and his death, and, by extension, the motive for this entire misbegotten movie. Similarly, the battle of wills between Lowe and Napoleon (à la The Bridge on the River Kwai) and the domestic tug-of-war among Napoleon's toadies, all vying for the man's affections, register little of the suspense or intrigue these matters can be relied on to do, confirming the suspicion that neither Manzor nor de Caunes had the vaguest idea what tone they were going for.

The performances can't be ignored. They range from the ridiculous (Grant's Lowe is such a straitlaced prig you want to give him a wedgie after every scene) to the pedestrian. Radon fares the worst, straining for a 19th century romantic aura out of the pages of Bronte or Flaubert but too stiff to pull it off. Finally, the idea that history is fallible, serving only the victors, and that the contents of its pages must always be held up for questioning is at the movie's heart but it's never elaborated upon beyond drivels of dialogue. Monsieur N.'s arbitrarily complex structure further diffuses whatever message this material could've conveyed. The evocative 19th century milieu and the movie's conspiratorial premise may keep you hanging in there, but just barely and certainly not with a straight face.

Monseiur bald spot.



Monsieur N.

Facts and Figures

Run time: 120 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 12th February 2003

Distributed by: Empire Pictures

Production compaines: Canal+, France Télévision Images 2, Futur Film Group, IMG Productions, Loma Nasha, Studio Images 9

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Fresh: 14 Rotten: 6

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Napoléon Bonaparte, as Hudson Lowe, as Basil Heathcote, as Albine de Montholon, as Marshal Bertrand, as Cipriani, Stéphane Freiss as Gen. Montholon, as Gen. Gourgaud, as Betsy Balcombe, Peter Sullivan as Thomas Reade, Stanley Townsend as Dr. O'Meara, Igor Skreblin as Ali, Blanche de Saint-Phalle as Fanny Bertrand, Jake Nightingale as Carpenter, Bernard Bloch as Von Holgendorp

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

An unusually realistic teen movie, this drama gets deep under the skin of its characters,...

Bleed for This Movie Review

Bleed for This Movie Review

This is such a ripping true story that it can't help but grab hold of...

Moana Movie Review

Moana Movie Review

In a clear echo of Frozen, this Disney animated adventure centres on a fiercely independent...

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Advertisement
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.