Based on Honore Du Balzac's classic novel of marital intrigue and betrayal in post-Napoleonic Paris.
Yves Angelo's movie may not quite reach the heights set by Cyrano De Bergerac but it still counts as another thundering episode of costumed Gallic cinema. Based on Honore Du Balzac's classic novel of marital intrigue and betrayal in post-Napoleonic Paris, it all rumbles by with suitable amounts of panache and spirit.
Events start out with a grand piece of skulduggery as ambitious Ferraud (Andre Dussolier) is offered a peerage provided he casts off his wealthy but politically unsuitable countess wife (Ardant). Well aware of her potential fate, Ardant, a wily former courtesan, uses every ounce of her considerable charm to hold onto her hubby's affections. But then a random element enters the marital equation when a shabby stranger slips into proceedings, claiming to be her first husband, cue the obligatory Depardieu in the title role.
The colonel, a legendary and long presumed fallen hero of Napoleon's rampaging Austrian campaign, is now a shattered, pathetic figure dazed by memories of battles who, it transpires, has spent the intervening decade in and out of mental institutions.
However, just as all the elements fall into place for the stirring showdown, the film loses its way, rambling about in an irritatingly discordant manner. It's a real shame too, because between the terrific triumvirate of Luchini, Depardieu and Ardant and the loving period detail, the chance was there to have produced something extra special. Ultimately, however, this is an absorbing history lesson.
Dedicated followers of French period drama and arthouse consumers alike will find their appetites more than satisfied.