“Le roi n’est pas un sujet”
Patrice Leconte’s 1996 film Ridicule visits the oft-examined court of Versailles in the late 18th century but finds itself a fascinating niche in focusing on the extraordinary power of wit and wordplay to shape people’s prospects in a world ruled by decadence, governed by reputations and above all, the caprices of Louis XVI at a time when he was completely unaware of how little time he had left with his head.
The story follows Ponceludon, a minor aristocrat from the provinces who makes his way to court to try and get money from the King to help the peasants on his land but finds that the only way to make his way to the front of the vast queue of people who want the royal ear is to display the kind of rapier wit to grab the mercurial attention of the nobility and make sure that it is sharper than anyone else’s.
It’s an incredibly wordy film and so a degree of proficiency in French (or even a degree!) will certainly help to appreciate the depth of the linguistic prowess at work here for it is impeccably written by Rémi Waterhouse, Michel Fessler and Eric Vicaut and one scene, which is a rap battle by pretty much any other name, takes rhyming to a whole new level to brilliant effect.
Charles Berling as Ponceludon is wonderful as the man determined to do the right thing, astute enough to realise that he will have to do most anything to get there, even if it means jumping in bed with Fanny Ardant’s delicious Madame de Blayac, the king’s mistress who thrives on the games of manipulation she is able to play. There’s also good support from Jean Rochefort as the man who tutors Ponceludon in the ways of the court and overall, I would definitely recommend trying to track this down if you can.