Ridicule (Patrice Leconte)

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

I have a sneaking suspicion that Ridicule is a whole lot funnier and more biting to those who are fluent in French (which I, despite six years of study beginning in junior high and continuing through college, decidedly am not). Set primarily in the court of Louis XIV during the 18th century, Patrice Leconte's latest film posits that wit was a more dangerous weapon than the sword or the pistol in those days; a scathing remark at the right moment could ruin another's career or destroy another's life, and thus skill with the riposte opened doors that money and noble birth could not. This premise appeals enormously to my love of verbal gymnastics, and so I was predisposed to like Ridicule, especially as Leconte's Monsieur Hire was one of my favorite movies of 1990. Trouble is, most of the wit, as featured in the subtitles, is pretty feeble; Oscar Wilde could have wiped the mat with these clowns. This, as noted, may well be a translation problem, but that knowledge doesn't make the movie any funnier or more credible to those who are forced to read the dialogue; moreover, not even an exhaustive knowledge of the French language could possibly improve the lame, perfunctory, didactic conclusion, in which Leconte and screenwriter Remi Waterhouse essentially say, "Okay, everybody out of the pool, picture's over," and the actors clamber out of the water and stand around shivering in towels as the credits roll. (That, I believe, is my stupidest metaphor ever.) Speaking of the actors, they're all terrific, especially Charles Berling as the film's righteous protagonist; thanks to them, Ridicule, however disappointing, is never dull.