The Horseman on the Roof Review

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In a time of war and disease, a young officer gallantly tries to help a young woman find her husband


Six years after the magnificent, award-laden Cyrano De Bergerac, Jean-Paul Rappeneau has again turned his attention to classical literature, this time with
Jean Giono’s sprawling tale of love amid 19th century France’s cholera epidemic. Although the film lacks the romantic grandeur of Depardieu’s crowning moment, it is an expertly paced tale of love and denial played against a chaotic, relentlessly morbid background.
The plot revolves around Angelo, an idealistic young Italian officer on the run from Austrian agents. Seeking refuge in Provence, he discovers that the normally idyllic region has been ravaged by the rapacious spread of cholera, and has descended into anarchy and mob rule. After a chance encounter with Pauline, an aristocratic young woman determined to find her husband, the two flee together and gradually fall in love. Rappeneau has restructured and thankfully abandoned much of Giono’s rambling, cadaverous story, placing greater emphasis on the emotionally charged and seemingly hopeless relationship between Pauline and Angelo. As with Cyrano, the director has stinted nothing and has produced a sweeping and visually sumptuous epic.
Admittedly, there are moments of ludicrous hyperbole — the frenzied mob riots and endless encounters with decaying corpses are often as risible as they are disturbing — but they are tempered with enough visually arresting moments and touches of humour to avoid ridicule. And it is the luminous Binoche rather than the over-zealous Martinez who lends genuine depth and intelligence to proceedings. This is still, though, a wonderfully romantic film, arrestingly told and spectacularly realised.

An old fashioned romance that'll have you crying in your Horlicks.