Perceval (1978)

Perceval (1978)

“Make me a knight, sire!”

Synopsis:
In medieval England, a callow youth named Perceval (Fabrice Luchini) goes against the wishes of his widowed mother (Pascale de Boysson) and sets out to become a knight under King Arthur.

Genres:

  • Coming of Age
  • Eric Rohmer Films
  • French Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Literature Adaptation
  • Medieval Times
  • Royalty and Nobility

Review:
Eric Rohmer’s strategically stylized adaptation of Chrétien de Troyes’ unfinished 12th century manuscript will, once you’ve adapted to its unusual style, likely strike you as the best possible way to approach this decidedly challenging material. By never attempting to make the characters “realistic” in any sense of the word (at times, they actually speak about themselves in the third person), and by using deliberately artificial settings (reminiscent of medieval paintings and tapestries), Rohmer effectively allows viewers to relax into knowing that they’re simply watching a filmed adaptation of an epic historical poem — nothing more or less. Indeed, Rohmer is apparently so faithful to his source material that he allows the narrative to radically shift gears during the final half-hour, such that we’re suddenly following an entirely different character altogether (Sir Gauvain, played by André Dussollier). Your enjoyment of the film will depend primarily upon two factors: how easily you can handle watching the rather obnoxiously callow and arrogant young protagonist mistreat his mother and a defenseless damsel while climbing the ranks and bedding a beautiful noblewoman; and how patient you are during what ends up as a rather long (2+ hours) and slow narrative haul. However, this one is ultimately too unique to miss checking out at least once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Boldly artificial sets

Must See?
Yes, as a most unusual outing by Rohmer. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book — and it seems to have remained so, among a sub-group of devoted fans.

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One thought on “Perceval (1978)

  1. First viewing – not must-see; a film that has very limited appeal (perhaps limited to the cult group specified).

    It doesn’t take long at all for viewers to realize what they’re in for here. The film’s tone and rhythm are well-established within the first few minutes… and – somnambulant as they basically are – they stay right where they are for the entire film. What is intended as either celebratory or reverential instead comes off as funereal.

    But the central difficulty is worse. ‘Perceval’ is almost completely robbed of any element of surprise. A film almost devoid of an element of surprise is, in a large way, also robbed of its reason for being.

    Often lifelessly academic in its presentation, it’s possible to feel you’re watching something closer to a high school play. Did Rohmer really think *this* dry offering would make 12th-century literature engaging?

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