Saturday, February 15, 2014

Conquest (Marie Walewska) - Clarence Brown

Conquest depicts the affair of Napoleon Bonaparte and her "Polish wife", Marie Walewska. According to Wikipedia and other sources online, including Walewska's own memories, the movie has a lot of resemblance to historical facts.

Like most movies of the 1930s, Conquest is a collection of theater-like dialogues between the two main characters interrupted by the appearance of some secondary characters. Events outside the love story are nothing but encores linking two scenes where the two main characters just talk and kiss. Over-explotation of Napoleon and Marie leaves outside important pieces to understand the main story: Movies were different from what they are today: they were understood as an extension of theater and hence and opportunity to see actors interpreting characters. Back in the day, a convincing love scene was more important than the plot. Today, the plot is as important as acting, if not more. Also, movies were directed to audiences with some cultural background: in the case of Conquest, Napoleon's evolution from a liberator to a would-be dictator is mentioned en passant, even if it's arguably one of the most important reasons why his love story with Marie falls apart. Audiences were supposed to know these things.

Shortly, Conquest is a movie worth watching for people interested in the history of film-making. The love story is too cheesy for today's fast-love standards, and Napoleonic history is mostly forgotten outside of France. Perhaps the only thing that may interest today's audiences is the characterization of Napoleon by Charles Boyer: at a time when we are all surprised by Charlize Theron's physical transformation in Monster, or Christian Bale's permanent and amazing look changes, it is worth seeing Boyer, considered a sex-symbol at the time, characterizing a despicable and ugly man wearing tight pants with a big  belly.

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