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Martin Bourboulon adds his flavour to Alexandre Dumas’ ‘swashbuckling’ classic – Beyond Bollywood

The conflict, the characters, and the culture of the French classic is perhaps still indifferent to the desi palette.

Director: Martin Bourboulon

Cast: Francois Civil, Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris, Pio Marmaï, Eva Green

Rating: 2 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Kamal Haasan had famously said last year that cinema has no language. In the age of better subtitling, dubbing, world cinema is your oyster. However, things aren’t simple for humble desis, if it is French. Not too long ago, most desi reviewers had a blank expression on their face whilst watching the poor dubbed English version of Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom [2023]. Now we’re asked to review another French literary classic in The Three Musketeers. Both films are produced by Pathe. 

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan [2023] is yet another adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 French novel. Let’s set the record straight, the quality of English dubbing here is miles better thanAsterix & Obelix.

Far away in India, what’s our memory of The Three Musketeers? We don’t even recollect whether the French classic was any chapter in English text books. However, The title and the author, they stuck onto us as mere general knowledge. We recall Charlie Sheen, Chris O’Donnell being part of a Hollywood adaptation in 1993  It aired in the era of private satellite television boom in India, where watching a Star Movies made you stand out in your humble vicinity.  Honestly, this reviewer would be lying if he claimed to understand Western cinema in the 80s, 90s.  Truth be told, leave aside any classic, English was an Achilles Heel for your desi reviewer then. So, beyond the GK value, we had very little understanding of Alexandre Dumas’ classic French novel and its 1993 English adaptation.

Three decades later, this reviewer has gained little bit of wisdom. Chuck the earlier adaptations. At 42, this was our introduction to The Three Musketeers.

We did read the basic premise of the novel, [on Wikipedia], and after watching the Bourboulon film, it’s safe to say that the director, and his writers Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de La Patellière have used adequate creative liberties to retell the Dumas classic in 2023.

Just like the original, the story is told through its swashbuckling principal protagonist D’Artagnan [François Civil].  For centuries, The Three Musketeers has defined the swashbuckler genre with D’Artagnan epitomizing fine swordsmanship, guile and chivalry. Add brotherhood to the mix, as Bourboulon scripts his adaptation around the sword that is hanging around Athos’ neck [Vincent Cassel].

D’Artagnan arrives from Gascony to fulfil his dream of becoming a Musketeer – a member of the household troops of the French king in the 17th and 18th centuries. Like the novel, D’Artagnan doesn’t have a great first meet with the three seasoned musketeers in Athos, Porthos [Pio Marmaï], and Aramis [Romain Duris].  In a matter of hours, D’Artagnan is crossing swords with the three musketeers.

All this is just a build up to the first conflict where D’Artagnan, Porthos and Aramis must find concrete evidence to save Athos from the gallows. Just few minutes ago, Artagnan was pointing sword at three musketeers but one fatal incident later, the swashbuckling young man isn’t afraid to put his life at risk to save Athos. 

Bourboulon’s film throws up the familiar antagonist Cardinal Richelieu and Milady de Winter [Eva Green].  We’re bewildered by the nature of the two key conflicts, which are a little underwhelming for any classic.  A woman’s honour is often behind many a great epic, but here it must be protected to conceal a royal affaire. For all talk of true love, Dumas’ The Three Musketeers braves to subtly question palace relationships. Here’s the Duke of Buckingham in a secret affair with the Anne of Austria.  It is a dangerous equation but they claim true love. But when later Milady seduces the Duke of Buckingham, he’s quick to lock lips. Where’s the honour now?

Dumas’ stories also cover the religious conflict that saw the rise of Protestant Reformation where many devouts separated from the Roman Catholic Church. On the face of it, Dumas was perhaps a staunch supporter of the Catholic Church. Ah, these religious conflicts, they are often beyond the 21-century liberal democrat.

Bourboulan’s film has fine dubbing, but the conflicts, the culture is perhaps still indifferent to the desi palette. Vincent Cassel impresses as Athos with the character at least having few layers to him. For a swashbuckling character, Francois Civil though is largely bland as Bourboulon’s D’Artagnan. Was Porthos a bisexual in the original novel? Pio Marmai barely leaves an impression. Romain Duris has a swag, style as Aramis but is largely undercooked. Hey, but the first film in the duology is largely about the heroism of D’Artagnan.

Eva Green is the ever seductress charming us with her irresistible beauty and Milady’s femme fatale instincts.

Young Lyna Khoudri adds a whole new layer to the pivotal character of Constance Bonacieux. This portrayal is part of the creative liberty in Bourboulon’s adaptation. The Constance-D’Artagnan relationship blossoms like vintage wine.  D’Artagnan reserves much of his chivalry for her. Khoudri’s is very convincing in her act.

The plot, sub-plots, drama is a little underwhelming but Bourboulon’s film scores high on its lavish production design.  The early action, mainly sword fighting is gripping, but there isn’t much after that.  The finale action in the church isn’t gripping. Bourboulon’s film is not the perfect introduction for this desi reviewer but maybe it comes with a promise of better drama, politics, romance, and swashbuckling action in the sequel – The Three Musketeers: Milady. Ah, Eva Green is sure to light up this desi reviewer’s Christmas.

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