To get royal backing on a needed drainage project, a poor French lord must learn to play the delicate games of wit at court at Versailles.
Some films cry out for a good slap in the face, and it's a cinch to knock this one down a peg just on face value. For starters, it's a period drama set in the powdered days of the 18th century French aristocracy. The cast, too, hardly consists of Gallic superstars, and the plot is but a mere whimsy that could be summed up with the words Liaisons and Dangerous. Oh, and then with straight faces they go and call it Ridicule.
However, director Leconte may well have made a dazzling and potent film. Although set in the lascivious courts of Louis XVI, is as scathing towards our own media culture as to the strutting flamingos of Versailles. A noble but broke aristocrat (Berling) aspires to build a rural sewage system and ventures to the king's palace to raise funding.
As he tries to gain access to the inner sanctum and out-manoeuvre the courtiers acidic gossip, he is sucked into superficial mind games with the rich and infamous. Remi Waterhouse's superb jigsaw script tips its hat to Les Liaisons Dangeureuses but Leconte and his devilishly wry cast have concocted a sly warning to all social butterflies in the guise of a lush costume drama.
Giraudeau excels as resident kingpin Abbe but Ardant (as all-conquering Countess de Blayac) gives a performance of such seductive brilliance that she steals every scene. Ridicule's real power is Leconte's direction which suggests rather than exploits, lingers rather than dwells. What's more, while it obliterates the social graces of history, viewers will laugh at its cruel cynicism without realising the joke is on them.