Yves Angelo’s Le Colonel Chabert (1994)

I am really glad I have watched this movie. I liked every minute of it. It’s beautifully filmed, the interiors are wonderful, the actors are extremely good.

One of the problems I usually have when a movie is based on a book is that so much I liked has been left out. Le Colonel Chabert is an example of the opposite. Where the book gives us just a few details, the movie elaborates them. The character portraits are much more interesting; the Countess Ferraud and the lawyer Derville, have more depth and complexity and also the Count Ferraud, who is more or less just a distant presence in the book, becomes a real person.

I will not summarize the plot, I have already done this in the review of the novel, I will rather point out a few differences and how the film director managed to put into pictures what has before been put into words.

The movie starts with a view of the battlefield. This isn’t easy to watch. I mentioned somewhere else the problems I had with the movie Waterloo because of the dead horses. The amount of wasted horses is heartbreaking. The scene is very graphic; bodies of men and horses are piled up high and disposed of, just like garbage. There are three instances like this in the movie. They are falshbacks and represent what the Colonel Chabert remembers from the battle of Eylau where he was so severely wounded that he was reported dead.

While the book is rightly called Le Colonel Chabert, the movie could also have been called The Countess Ferraud. There is much more emphasis on her and the role and fate of women in the French society in the 19th century. She is not only greedy and ambitious like the Countess in the novel but she is also a woman who fights for her survival in the society. The movie shows that they are just pawns in a game and that “love” mostly equals lust and where that ends, “love” stops. A woman must constantly fear to be replaced by another one that is either more attractive or more likely to bring a man the social status or wealth he craves or the son he needs. I am not a fan of Fanny Ardant but she is excellent in this movie.

Derville’s role is also much more substantial. I like the way he speaks about his profession and how it made him unvover the ugliest in human society. The avarice, the greed, the fighting over money. Derville is truly a good person. He has seen so many vile acts that it seems to have transformed him into a better human being. There is not much to gain for him, in helping the Colonel, yet he does it anyway. Fabrice Luchini plays this incredibly well. The scene in which he visits the Colonel in his filthy abode is priceless.

Le Colonel Chabert is beautifully filmed. The decor, interiors and costumes are really worth watching. I particularly liked how the lawyer’s chambers were shown and the filthy backyard in which the Colonel lives.

Gerard Depardieu will always be one of my favourite actors no matter how often he parodies himself. I love his voice and he is often great. He is great in period drama but he excels in modern movies. The final scene of  Le Colonel Chabert shows him at his very best. This alone would have made this movie worth watching for me. On the other hand I have to point out that whoever is familiar with French cinema of the 80s and 90s knows that there is one thing to deplore. Whenever there was a big budget movie, it was more than likely he was casted. This makes it occasionally difficult to see the character and not the actor and his former roles. When I saw Chabert I also saw Rodin, the Count of Monte Christo, Cyrano de Bergerac, Vidocq, Vatel, Valjean, Columbus, Maheu, Jean de Florette and Balzac.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a trailer. I attached a few film stills instead.

16 thoughts on “Yves Angelo’s Le Colonel Chabert (1994)

  1. Ahhhh. One of my top films of all time. I found myself disliking the Countess at first but then admiring her as we see how she is trapped by circumstance.

    I particualarly loved the way Derville’s office (the stacks/ racks of files) reminded me of the stacks of dead buried in the mass graves on the battlefield. A simply marvellous film, and a primo example of the perfect marriage between literature and film.

    • I really agree, it’s great, I like that office. It does look like the mass graves, true. Lives on paper are buried there. I found the Countess so insufferable in the book that I didn’t dislike her that much. In the book it’s all about money. It is much more here. She doesn’t want to lose her husband but knows quite well, he would take every opportunity to get rid of her just to become a peer. It is very true to the book in many ways but surpasses is in many others.

  2. Not that I have seen this film but I do appreciate Depardieu. I thought he was wonderful in his version of Cyrano de Bergerac – he manages so well that disjunction in his persona between chunky, ungainly, unhandsome man and an elegant, sensitive soul.

    • I loved him in Cyrano de Bergerac and also as Rodin. These are some of his best roles. But he is also extremely good in modern movies, he has a real comic talent. If it wasn’t for the bits on the Napoleonic campaign I would recommend you watch Colonel Chabert but those scenes are so sad and disturbing.

  3. I do love a vivid, lush movie. I only wish I could understand more languages and not have to read subtitles–I always feel I am missing the action by reading the words at the bottom of the screen!

    • I know what you mean. Depending on the movie it can disctract you a lot. I have one or two movie, Chinese and Russian that I watched first with subtitles and then in the sychronized version and I realised I missed alot of the facial expressions. (:

    • For me,I would rather read subtitles than having the movie subdubbed or remade. Maybe it is because I am used with reading subtitles.

      I once tried watching ghibli’s dubbed movie … it was awful,I switch back to the original language right away. For me,the movie lost its original meaning once it is dubbed or remade

      • I agree. A lot of the atmosphere is just lost in dubbing but occasionally subtitles spoil the movie, especially when they put the subtitles almost into the pictures and it covers up a lot.

  4. I really liked this film when I watched it. Depardieu and Ardant are excellent.
    I agree with your comment about Depardieu taking part in all the big productions and “he parodies himself”. He’s very good in modern movies like “Quand j’étais chhanteur”.

    • Yes, they are both great. It really is a pity that he did too many movies. I used to like him so much but then he was too prsent all of a sudden. I also heard rumours that he had to be casted whether the director wanted him or not.

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