xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
"The Princess of Montpensier" enters the field of the swashbuckling romance, so littered with our memories of other films, and conquers it with a startling freshness. So well does Bertrand Tavernier evoke the period that it evokes tangible physical qualities: the warmth of flesh, the coldness of steel, the green fields on which men fight and die. This world of France in 1562 might be idyllic, if it were not being torn by the need of Catholics and Protestants to kill one another.
We meet a fierce soldier, the Count of Chabannes (Lambert Wilson), who after unknowingly plunging his blade into the belly of a pregnant woman, decides he is disgusted by war. That places him outside the pale, a traitor to one side, a deserter to the other. He's redeemed by an affectionate student and becomes the tutor to the beautiful Marie de Mezieres (Melanie Thierry), a rich and famous beauty who, in short time, is forced into an arranged marriage with the callow Philippe de Montpensier (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet). The negotiations between the fathers of these two young people are a straightforward business contract involving the transfer of lands, with not the slightest thought of Marie's desires.
On her part, she's indifferent to Philippe but drawn passionately to Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), a rugged and arrogant man who proudly displays his scarred face. The de Guise family is also powerful and also desires Marie; a cardinal in their family represents the only appearance of religion in this film, and he is a politician, not a man of prayer. Ironic, that although France is in a civil war over religion, it comes down to tribes rather than theology.
Establishing the major players and some minor ones slightly impedes the early scenes, but soon the characters are vivid and the intrigue begins. It centers on Marie, and on Melanie Thierry, who looks a decade younger than her 30 years, a classic heroine with a fresh, proud beauty. She is duly handed over to the attentions of her husband for a humiliating wedding night attended by witnesses to testify that the sheet is bloody. Then her husband hurries off to a new war, and she responds quickly to the tutoring of Chabannes.