This unique retelling of the tale of Perceval is a great and glorious anomaly in Eric Rohmer's career. Adapted by Rohmer from the 12th-century book by Chrétien de Troyes, it marries ancient theater, medieval painting, mus... more »ic, and prose in a beautifully stylized film narrated in couplets by a chorus of singers and musicians playing traditional instruments, and often by the actors themselves. Fabrice Luchini glows with naïve innocence and wide-eyed wonder as the child-man Perceval, an ignorant but well-meaning young lord raised in isolation, who vows to become a knight after catching his first sight of what he believes to be godly beings. Fumbling through a whole new world of experiences on his quest, he takes his mother's advice to heart all too literally, leading to awkward, humorous, and sometimes tragic consequences, but he reaches the court of King Arthur, where he is knighted and begins his life of chivalry and good deeds. Rohmer builds his world on a huge circular set where bulbous metal sculptures stand in for trees, flat storybook castles look like giant cardboard toys, and the horizon is a backdrop painting. The story denies the expectations of modern storytelling, opting for an episodic series of lessonlike vignettes, culminating in a highly theatrical Passion play (featuring Luchini in the role of Christ). Perceval is a lovely and loving odyssey into the very nature of stories and storytelling, and one of the most original and unique visions in modern cinema. --Sean Axmaker« less
Cynthia L. Mclendon | Memphis, TN USA | 12/28/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Eric Rohmer's "Perceval" is one of the most stunning films I've ever seen. Based on Chretien de Troyes' unfinished story, this movie is amazing. The scenery and acting are exquisitely stylized, and the story is presented in a blend of medieval-style song, dialog, and narration--all in Old French. It's like watching a medieval pageant come to life. Rohmer's adaptation is remarkably faithful to Chretien's story. I particularly adored the film's depiction of the episode of Gawain and the Damsel of the Small Sleeves--the girl in the film is splendid. Fabrice Luchini portrays Perceval perfectly--naive, callow, youthfully self-centered and determined. I can't praise this film highly enough. If you love the romances of Chretien, this is a must-see. I wish Rohmer had done "The Knight of the Cart," too..."
Ian Myles Slater on: A Wonderful Production
Ian M. Slater | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I originally saw Eric Rohmer's "Perceval" during its American theatrical release, and, on a large screen, the impression of watching an illuminated manuscript come to life was overwhelming. On a small screen, it is still impressive, although a bit more like watching an animation of the beautiful book itself. Not, that, unfortunately, we have such a manuscript of Chretien de Troyes' Old French "Perceval, or, The Story of the Graal," illustrated with anything like such fullness, detail, or precision. But if there is a Platonic archetype of an illuminated manuscript of the poem, I think that Rohmer must have come close to it. That it is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the story, as well as a visually stunning one, accounts for many features of the production.
As director-screenwriter, Rohmer thoroughly integrated the verbal and visual. The characters move through sets which seem to be cut from medieval illustrations, going through stylized movements which show how well or ill-adapted they are to court life. Chorus-like figures from time to time deliver comments, and even address the viewer as if speaking for the author -- a sort of cinematic equivalent of hearing the story from a gifted reader, which was probably how Chretien's public first experienced it. The initial impression of judicious fidelity to the original survived having a translation of the romance open in front of me. There are omissions, but what is on the screen is a plausible interpretation of what is on the page.
Chretien, who died around 1185, left our oldest surviving Arthurian Chivalric Romances (as distinguished from material embedded in pseudo-historical "chronicles," and Welsh stories that are closer to both myth and fairy tales), the rest of which are "Erec and Enide," "Cliges," "Yvain, or the Knight with the Lion," and "Lancelot, or, The Knight of the Cart." They have been translated several times in recent decades, including three "complete" renderings of the romances -- one of them raised the bar by including the non-Arthurian "William of England" to round things out. They were not well-represented in English when Rohmer's film was made; in fact, finding a complete version of "Perceval" was then a little difficult. If you don't know early Arthurian literature -- as opposed to modern versions -- you might try a library (or Amazon) for one of the renderings of Chretien's poem before watching Rohmer's version -- not, however, any of the many *other* versions of the Grail story, especially those featuring Galahad, which in this case will merely be confusing. Nigel Bryant's translation of "Perceval" includes selections from the Old French "Continuations" -- the original turned into a sort of sequel-generating franchise. Bryant has translated two other Old French retellings of Perceval's story, and there are Welsh, Middle High German, Old Norse, and Middle English versions, too.
As we learn in the opening few minutes, the titular hero is the son of widow, brought up by his noble mother in the forest, so that he will be ignorant of the larger world, and not follow his father's fatal career as a knight. Naturally, the first time the youth sees some of King Arthur's knights, he isn't sure what they are, but, once he learns that they aren't angels or devils, wants to be one, anyway, and runs off in search of Arthur. He is also literal-minded to an extreme degree, and soon finds himself in serious trouble, over and over. He is saved mostly by the fact that he is incredibly strong and agile -- living in the wilderness has its advantages. His remarkable good looks -- and here the casting was crucial -- help for a while. So do well-meaning acquaintances, none of whom ever seem to grasp just how *much* of a bumpkin young Perceval is. Having been admonished not to ask questions, which have been making him a nuisance, and revealing his absurd ignorance, he, inevitably, fails to ask one at the Grail Castle, when it was not only appropriate and expected, but actually necessary.
On the whole, the naive Perceval himself comes across less like Tarzan than like George of the Jungle (the animated version), stumbling his way through rescuing damsels and delivering besieged castles -- Chretien seems to have been having fun with what were already cliches, and Rohmer follows him. The film-maker follows the poet in other ways, as well. Rohmer could have stayed with Perceval, and picked up additional material from the post-Chretien Grail-Quest literature. Instead, the film switches for a time to Chretien's secondary hero, Arthur's nephew Gauvain (Gawain), who has accomplished the great feat of conversing with Perceval without getting in a fight with him. Gauvain is the perfect warrior, the perfect courtier, and the perfect lover -- a James Bond in shining armor, and the mirror image of that yokel, Perceval. All of which qualities make him enemies, and he is left in a hostile town, facing a ring of attackers, and armed mainly with a chessboard and large chess-pieces.
"Perceval," to the lasting frustration of readers, and to the great benefit of future generations of storytellers, broke off in mid-adventure for both heroes, for reasons unknown. (The author's death is an obvious explanation, but can't be documented in relation to the poem.) Rohmer does the same, although he includes a (perhaps relevant) "Passion Play" sequence at a point at which Christianity is finally being explained to Perceval. This rounds things off, and suggests a religious meaning to the enigmatic tale.
Sorry folks, that's all there is."
Wonderful film for medieval music lovers
jamesiegod | Oak Park, IL United States | 04/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Interesting everyone here seems either to hate this film or love it. Little in between. I found the "fake" sets fascinating because they were very effectively evocative of medieval manuscript illuminations -- in fact the whole film seemed like a manuscript motion. The way the musicians stand in consort, the way the ladies hold their hands, etc., resemble countless examples seen in paintings and manuscripts of the 15th century and before. The music is unfailingly authentic: any that is not sung to actual 13th century French melodies is stylistically perfect. Then there are the occasional snippets of actual well-known pieces, such as the lament of Richard the Lion-Hearted that appears briefly in purely instrumental form. I recommend it, but if you would tend to be turned off by the things the negative reviewers harp on, see something else. The things people have written here are factually correct; whether it strikes you as fabulous or unconscionable will depend entirely on your personal sensibilities and taste."
Psychadelic and gothic dreamyness prevails
MegaMegaWhiteThing! | Brooklyn, NY | 08/05/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Combine some modern - looking sculpted metal stage props with neon sand, then add rich gothic singing, and you have Perceval. At first, I sat watching the movie thinking "ok what did I get myself into?" because the singing irked me at first. Then I got used to it, and it became a chief and quite ingenious form of communication between the narrator, the actors, and the audience. Knowing a little bit of French eases the rapidity of a foreign language versus flashy subtitles. The story fails to get boring at any point, and the film is upbeat and interesting from every angle you look at it.Perceval is a lovable film with romance, duty, and gothic mysticism interwoven throughout. There's a small bit of nudity, but nothing offensively portrayed in a hardcore fashion. It's not your typical independent French film!"
You had to be there
Margaret M. Duffy | New York, NY USA | 01/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can certainly understand why this film leaves some people feeling uncomfortable or confused. It is indeed very untypical of Eric Rohmer, or indeed, of contemporary films in general, where even fantasy is presented so as to seem absolutely 'real'. However, it is absolutely typical of its time, place and subject matter.
I love to watch it because it brings me back so strongly to the later 1960s and 1970s and to the medieval music "scene" of that period. In those days, while Medieval and early Renaissance music was still being "discovered" it was not at all uncommon for performers to dress in period costume and to do elaborate productions to showcase the music of the periods. In New York, I remember attending performances of the Play of Daniel (medieval) and of the Revels of the Queen (Elizabeth I- 16th century) that were done in this manner. I may have attended other, similar, concerts because there seem to be fragments of others floating around in my memory, but these two stand out very clearly. Perceval reminds me so strongly of these experiences! This manner of presenting historical music seems to have slowly gone out of fashion sometime during the 1980s and 1990s and is scarcely found today. Concerts of medieval music are now done by musicians in contemporary 21st century dress (although not always in the formal dress of "classical" music).
So, with this background in mind Rohmer's Perceval is a lovingly done, charming document of a period of musical rediscovery. It's scale is bigger than the production that could have been done in most available theatrical venues but it has the same flavor. However, those who expect to see realistic sets and realistic acting may well feel all at sea. If one regards it as a medieval opera it may lessen the feeling of strangeness.
On its own merits it is beautifully done, with charming landscapes that look as if they have been drawn from 12th century manuscripts, creating a fairytale landscape and atmosphere that is very appropriate to the Arturian story. The music is well done, with well-known medieval melodies adapted to the words of Chretien de Troyes. The story is perfect, showing this, earliest, Perceval as the awkward, overprotected innocent Chretien imagined. Perceval gets it all wrong, due to his lack of social graces and experience of the world. He is the very model of the adolescent, learning the ways of the world through hard experience and making many mistakes as he goes through life. At the non-end ending, he is beginning to enter adulthood, wiser and sadder as he takes responsibility for his own actions and their effects.
The very end of the movie features a play within a play. This inner play is a fragment of a Good Friday trope, such as might have been performed in a monastery setting in the high middle ages. It is itself a very interesting document of the way in which theatre was reborn in Western Europe.