VATEL VATEL VATEL
directed by Roland Joffé, written by Jeanne Labrune and Tom Stoppard, produced by Joffé and Alan Goldman, with Gérard Depardieu, Uma Thurman, Julian Sands and Tim Roth. 117 minutes. A Gaumont/Canal + production. A Miramax release through Alliance-Atlantis. Opens Friday (February 23). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 69. Rating: NNroland joffe began his director- ial career with The Killing Fields, which gave everyone high hopes, even though in retrospect it reeks of liberal self-congratulation.
Since then, he has directed The Mission, Fat Man And Little Boy, City Of Joy, The Scarlet Letter and Goodbye, Lover, none of which met expectations. I quite liked Fat Man, though, about the birth of the A-bomb at Los Alamos. And the icy self-regard of Goodbye, Lover makes it one of those odd films that's more fun to think about than to actually watch.
His latest, another bloated period picture, is Vatel. Like The Scarlet Letter, it revels in historical detail while demonstrating no genuine insight into the period under discussion, in this case the France of Louis XIV.
Julian Sands is Big Louie, Tim Roth his chargé d'affaires, Uma Thurman the object of everyone's affection and Gérard Depardieu François Vatel, chef and master of revels for the Prince de Condé and, on an historical-gastronomical level, the man who invented whipped cream at the prince's Chantilly palace. To this day, whipped cream is referred to as Chantilly in France. (Oh baby, you know what I like.)
Vatel opened the Cannes Festival last May, and as barely watchable crap goes, it was weirdly both off-the-wall and appropriate to the situation.
Off-the-wall in that it followed a big symposium on the future of the cinema, yet it's hard to imagine a more old-fashioned movie. And appropriate because its subject, the endless ceremonial twists and turns at the Bourbon court, brought to mind the endlessly disruptive rerouting of filmgoers in the baroquely misdesigned Palais caused by the attendance at the screening of the president of France.
In the real world, though, Miramax paid $5 million for this, which is no doubt God's way of telling Harvey Weinstein that he's got too much money. It's the sort of movie where people run around saying, "His majesty is bored. This is a disaster for Condé!" To which one can only say, "Wake me when it's over."
Tom Stoppard, who did the translation of the script into English, should be ashamed of himself.JH