I didn’t expect this from the most naturalistic of the French new wavers. It’s a period musical adaptation of an epic poem – that part seems up Rohmer’s alley – but he uses spare, symbolic sets (anticipating the digital backdrops of The Lady and the Duke) and has the actors read their character’s dialogue and accompanying narration, speaking along with their actions so as not to break up the verses. The source poem is incomplete, so the story trails off at the end, but not before a momentum-killing passion play with our lead character as Jesus on the cross. It’s quirky and unique, and I liked the story somewhat, but didn’t warm up to the simple lead character or the renaissance music. As far as French movies set in weirdly artificial castles starring Andre Dussolier go, I prefer La Vie est un roman.

Young Andre Dussolier with Perceval:

Perceval (Fabrice Luchini, who’d recently starred in Immoral Tales) takes advice given him VERY seriously, listening first to his mother, then a “worthy man” he meets on his travels. But he is dumb as hell, and sometimes misinterprets the intent of the advice, firstly when he barges into a knight’s tent, steals some food and molests the woman inside. I’m not sure what advice led to that. Later he’s told that it’s better to stay silent than say stupid stuff, so in the enchanted castle of the Fisher King, he doesn’t ask about the miraculous bleeding spear and glowing bowl he sees, and so is cursed for his lack of humility, and spends five years wandering godlessly through the wilderness while his mother dies alone back home. As with many ancient texts, the story takes logical leaps that I don’t follow.

Magic woman with awesome hair who delivers the Fisher King curse:

Perceval Christ:

Elsewhere, Perceval falls for a woman named Blanchefleur (Arielle Dombasle, who made an impression as the goofy wheelchair woman in La Belle Captive), defends her castle and promises to marry her. He gets respect from King Arthur and starts sending his defeated enemies to the King for punishment instead of finishing them off. Then the movie leaves Perceval for a long while, following Arthurian knight Gawain (Dussolier) on a quest to clear his name from some murderous accusation, with a stop on the way to win a jousting contest on behalf of a rich girl. I love that the same choir of musical servants (including Pascale Ogier of Le Pont du Nord, in her first role) appears in every location. I also love the look of the film, and a weird scene involving cartoon geese.

There’s Pascale on the right:

Perceval with Blanchefleur:


a medieval musical that feels a bit like a western … The merit of Rohmer’s realism in Perceval is that it brings something otherwise dead and forgotten to life – not because Rohmer’s imagination is especially rich but because he sees no alternative to his literalism, even if it makes some audiences laugh in disbelief.

More miserable, miserable misery from the ol’ misery-monger Mizoguchi. I never like his movies, then I keep hearing they’re masterpieces so I watch another. This one and Ugetsu are universally acclaimed, and while I liked ’em better than Street of Shame and Life of Oharu, I can’t say I really liked ’em. So, laying off the Mizoguchi for a while after this.

Isn’t life torture? Sister Ky├┤ko Kagawa was big-time, starring in movies for Akira Kurosawa and Mikio Naruse. Her mom played the wife in Equinox Flower.

Near Fukuoka in south of Japan in the 1100’s, this government guy who we never see is unpopular with the higher-ups because he actually wants to help people, so he’s banished to the other side of the country. His wife Tamaki packs up the kids (Zushio and his little sister Anju) to follow, and together they set off on a wonderful adventure! No just kidding, after the kids are kidnapped and sold into slavery, the wife becomes a prostitute, eventually goes blind and never sees her husband or daughter again.

Tha Bailiff:

Mostly focuses on the son Zushio. As a boy he learns his dad’s humanistic ways, but in the slave camp he gives in to authority, becoming a tormentor of his fellow slaves under the rule of Spiky-bearded badman Sansho. Finally he repents, takes a chance to escape (stays with ex-slave Taro, now a priest, who used to be in Zushio’s position), promising he’d be back for his sister. Z goes to Kyoto to appeal to the law, finds sympathy among men who knew his father, and they make Z a governor. He goes down and challenges Sanso’s authority, ordering all slaves freed. When Z says, “My mother and sister will be delighted. Now I can make a happy life for them,” those of us who’ve seen other Mizoguchi movies know what’s coming… he discovers his sister has drowned herself rather than face torture by the guards asking where her brother had gone (as if he’d even told her). Meanwhile mom has been living blind by the sea for years, her song “Isn’t Life Torture” about her kidnapped children spreading throughout the land, so now, having been fired from his post for trying to be nice to people, he manages to track her down and they hug each other and cry.

Zushio and the mad monk:


Movie jumps back and forth in time, pretty unusual. The music, hailed on the DVD commentary for being authentic, is either tuneless twanging on a single guitar string or tuneless piercing flute.