Daniel Auteuil and Marie Gillain in Le Bossu

Le Bossu




Daniel Auteuil, Jean Reno, Gerard Depardieu. Where are the barrel-chested Brit equivalents to these beefy action men of the French cinema? But then, Brits are all gay, aren’t we? Take this fine, roistering spectacle, a dashingly charming entertainment in which Auteuil plays a D’Artagnan-like figure, all flashing swords and teeth. The story has been made into a film five times before, and is in the tradition of the Count of Monte Cristo – revenge is its beating heart – as it follows 18th century swordsman the Chevalier de Lagardère (Auteuil) through long patient years, disguise as a hunchback, political intrigue, love from an unexpected quarter, until he finally faces down the dastardly Gonzague (played by the brilliant boulevardier Fabrice Luchini), to avenge the death of his friend years before. It’s a bit of a sprawling rococo epic, with some nice contemporary touches thrown in – the surprisingly different attitudes of the able-bodied towards the hunchback (Bossu) of the title, for instance. Plus there’s sex – this is a French film – and some of the finest swordplay since Errol Flynn finally sheathed his weapon. Swashbucklers might not be fashionable and Auteuil might not be the first person you’d call if casting one, but the French take them seriously and in the stylish hands of seasoned director Philippe de Broca such objections can easily be swatted aside.

© Steve Morrissey 1998


Le Bossu (aka On Guard) – at Amazon 





4 thoughts on “Le Bossu”

  1. Alexandre Dumas made a reputation for himself writing stories chiefly about the uncommon man who had to rise to the occasion in extraordinary circumstances. Arguably, THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO stand as some of the best literature of the ages, and the film adaptations have created some of the most incredibly swordplay put to the silver screen.

    The little heard of and rarely seen ON GUARD ("Le Bossu," 1997, from the French novel by Paul Feval of the same name), by far, features some of the most exciting swordplay with a story that compares to Dumas’ best work in many ways.

    Daniel Auteuil stars as Lagardere, a budding swordsman who can’t back down from a fight. One evening, upon trying to best the Duke of Nevers, he inadvertently falls into the duke’s good graces and joins him — as a sidekick — on a journey to rescue the man’s infant daughter, Aurore. However, as the duke is soon murdered by his villainous cousin Count Gonzague (played with ample creepiness by Fabrice Luchini), Lagardere escapes with the infant and, along with the help of a traveling circus, raises her as his own child for sixteen years … until Aurore takes up the sword and performs a move only her real father could’ve known, alerting the now-in-power Gonzague to the fact the the daughter has survived. Now, Legardere is faced with the ultimate challenge of devising a masterful plot to put the woman back on the throne and into her position of prominence!

    Much of the film is pure plotting and humor, some of which can only be the product of the French ("Ever try sodomy, my friend?"), and I’m quite certain several of the jokes might be lost on an American audience. Still, Auteuil as Lagardere is the film’s masterful stroke; he proves himself capable of a Musketeer-like defender, a loving father, and a pining lost soulmate to the lovely Aurore, all the while maintaining his sense of duty coupled with a great sense of humor.

    The film is presented widescreen, filmed on beautiful locations, and the sound is very crisp and vibrant. ON GUARD is a wonderful adaptation that deserves to be discovered by a much larger audience.

  2. "On Guard!" is a delightful saga of a swashbuckling soap, in French, at the capable hands of veteran director Philippe De Broca. I still remember his most entertaining "That Man From Rio" 1964, with adorable Jean-Paul Belmondo and matching comedic tempo of Francoise Dorleac – it was such fun (’tis before the James Bond flicks becoming an annual feverish affair).

    What drew me to "Le Bossu" (The hunchback – film’s title in French) was mainly due to the ‘extraordinaire’ Daniel Auteuil, who’s the central lead in the film. I first remember him not from "Manon of the Spring" 1987 (as Gerard Depardieu was the star) but from his portrayal of Lacenaire in "The Elegant Criminal" 1990. There’s also the ever suave and attractive Vincent Perez (it’s the second time seeing him acting opposite Auteuil – they were both in "Queen Margot" 1994; if you haven’t seen him in the epic "Indochine" 1992 with Catherine Deneuve, go for it). And in the nemesis role, Fabrice Luchini aptly portrayed the treachery of it all. (He was fascinating to watch in director Patrice Leconte’s "Intimate Strangers" 2004, playing opposite Sandrine Bonnaire.)

    So with the wonderful script co-written by De Broca himself, witty dialog and intriguing plot turns, it’s simply irresistible not to check out "On Guard!" It’s available on DVD from Empire Pictures – Koch Lorber Films, and there are behind the scenes extras with interviews of the director, the trio of main actors and actress Marie Gillain, in French with English subtitles option.

    Music is by the omnipresent maestro Philippe Sarde, with inclusion of strains from Pietro Mascagni’s "Cavalleria Rusticana". By the way, there’s another famous Philippe included in the cast: Noiret, indeed.

  3. If you want to escape from the world Le Bossu is a brilliant holiday.

    The subtitles are badly done as usual – give us Literal Translations please – we are not idiots!

    The story is a great romping swashbuckler that would make Errol Flynn proud. Perez and Autiel are especially good but the man that steals it is Fabrice Lucini – his voice would give anyone a lesson in French and he is very funny and diabolical – he should be a massive star.

    This film rollocks along and just shows you don’t need complex plots to have a great movie – once again Hollywood scriptwriters – read it and weep… The French and the British are the only ones that can truly do justice to this sort of film.

  4. De Broca, who had made the marvelous swashbuckler CARTOUCHE (1962), returns to the genre after 35 years with this unexpectedly old-fashioned and highly entertaining romp.

    Daniel Auteil is the unlikely hero, who is also called on to show his versatility as an actor by dressing up as the titular character. He's supported by a good cast: Vincent Perez as a womanizing aristocrat, Fabrice Luchini as a somewhat reticent villain and Philippe Noiret as a Regent; lovely Marie Gillain is Auteil's improbable love interest (she was raised by him after being saved from death's clutches).

    The film's theatrical milieu brings forth obvious comparisons with SCARAMOUCHE (1952) but the sumptuous décor, Philippe Sarde's rousing score and a plot-packed narrative keep one watching. In fact, it was so well-received at the time of its release as to be nominated for several international film awards!

    De Broca is a distinguished French film-maker but, unfortunately, very little of his early work is available for reassessment; I've only watched 5 myself (including this one) and all proved to be well worth watching.

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