A tribute to comedians forced to play utilities rendered by three great actors. A wacky and unbridled comedy by Patrice Leconte.
Three old comedians, penniless, shabby and unemployed, are engaged in a mediocre boulevard comedy that goes on tour. The show is set up by a producer in default, determined to sabotage it in order to receive insurance money. But the three actors get caught up in the game and get involved in what will perhaps be the last chance of their lives…
The Grand Dukes, released in February 1996, is the thirteenth of 31 feature films by Patrice Leconte. The screenplay, the first of four that Serge Frydman will co-write with the director, follows three failed actors, ready for anything to get hired on a theatrical tour. The resolutely eccentric tone of the adventure is reminiscent of Les Producteurs (The ProducersMel Brooks, 1967) who won theOscar for Best Original Screenplay. Fairly badly received by critics and somewhat shunned by the public, the film was quickly eclipsed by another feature film by Patrice Leconte, Ridicule, released three months later, in May 1996, nominated for Oscars and at the
Palme d’Orto Cesar for Best Film and winner of Best Foreign Film Award at the BAFTA Awards.
The Grand Dukesafter an intimate parenthesis delicately illustrated by The Hairdresser’s Husband and Yvonne’s Perfume (the three films have just been offered, for the first time in high definition, by Rimini Éditions), marked a return of Patrice Leconte to the comedy, the genre that ensured its popularity with Les Bronzés (1978) and Les Bronzés font du ski (1979).
The turmoil of the staging, accentuated by the shots taken by camera worn on the shoulder and the cutting into very short shots, the deliberate choices of the director to accelerate the pace of the film, even which end up boring, without the thinness of the scenario redeems this weakness. We find, however, the solid support of the team of faithful Patrice Leconte, Eduardo Serra, the chief operator, Ivan Maussion, artistic director and decorator, and Joëlle Hache, for the assembly.
The Grand Dukes has a great asset: the trio formed by Jean-Pierre Marielle, Philippe Noiret and Jean Rochefort, reunited again some twenty years after Que la fête commence (Bertrand Tavernier, 1975). The three play around like never before, all excesses not only being allowed, but also encouraged.
We find, in the rest of the distribution, an old accomplice of Patrice Leconte, Michel Blanc (under an unusual appearance, his baldness hidden under a brown wig). A black character in this unbridled comedy, he paces the hangers with homicidal intentions in a scene that refers to the mythology of the phantom of the opera. Set back in a rather macho microcosm, two women: Catherine Jacob, with the air of a diva, exposed to the repeated attacks of the old handsome Jean Rochefort and Clotilde Courau, a beginner tormented by doubt about her future in the theater.
The Grand Dukes (84 minutes) and its generous extras (93 minutes, not including the film’s audio commentary) fit on a Blu-ray BD-50, housed in a case not supplied for the test.
The animated and musical menu offers the film in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo audio format.
A DVD edition is available, with the same content.
The Grand Dukes Tour (12′, Rimini Éditions, 2022), an interview with Patrice Leconte led by Frédéric-Albert Lévy. The director recalls that the film was to be called The Tour of the Grand Dukes, a form of greeting to “fifteenth-zone comedians (…), faith pegged to the body”. The “calm” story needed to be shaken up by a series of “impediments, sticks in the wheels” that could “derail the tour”. He says he was disappointed during filming by Michel Blanc’s mood, “not in his plate (…) as if he had made this film only for the pleasure of the check”. He continues to dream of a musical film that is not, like La La Land, “a copy of old”. He likes this repartee of Jean-Pierre Marielle, “In the theater, it is by his silences that we judge an actor”, a maxim which applies to life in general.
Film commentary by Patrice Leconte
(Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, taken from the M6 Video edition of 2000). Although he had limited public success, he “loved directing this hairy film which goes 250 an hour, even in the turns”, shot quickly, “like a report” with very short shots, taken with a shoulder-mounted camera, the only static shots being those shot in front of the stage of several theaters, in “boulevardier and old-fashioned” sets. The filming of the sequences was preceded by a “setting up”, as in the theatre, with an important rule: “we don’t forbid ourselves anything! “. On the set, “with friends”, he gave great freedom to the actors, surprised by the tempo of the shoot, unable to contain the laughter triggered on the set, especially when Jean-Pierre Marielle appealed to the generosity of the public. … Additional scenes were taken after filming, including those at the end of the film.
Like the one recorded for Yvonne’s Perfumea useful and pleasant commentary, made four years after the filming.
The Grand Dukes: the film of the film (17′, 1.33:1, 1996, unreleased). It is the fastest-paced film of all those made by Patrice Leconte, ensuring all the framing, often carrying the camera, which several shooting scenes show. The actors talk about their characters, “nourished by their experience as actors”.
Rochefort in sneakers (64′, 2015). A documentary by Alain Teulère, shot in 2015 at the actor’s vacation spot “in purple suspenders and lemon sneakers”. His long career scrolls, “150 films, 40 plays, cartoons, pubs, two books, three Caesars “. Actor in the skin, he did not feel “capable of doing anything else”. After a traveling childhood, bohemianism in Paris, conservatory classes in 1951, the first timid appearances on the screens in 1954, begins “his emergence from the shadows” with Cartouche (Philippe de Broca, 1962), which forced him to learn to ride in eight days, his friend Jean-Paul Belmondo having had him hired by boasting of his talents as a rider! He evokes his experience of boards with the creation in France of two pieces by Harold Pinter, his admiration for Albert Camus, Céline, Cervantès. Then the consecration came with the Cesar for Best Supporting Actorfor Let the party begin and the Cesar for best actor for Le Crabe tambour (Pierre Schoendoerffer, 1977) and the great audience of eight popular films, the fruit of his meeting with Yves Robert. Carried away by the passion of the horse, he became a breeder: “I am a man with dung” he underlines. Comes maturity with Tandem (1987), the first of seven films with Patrice Leconte. He takes up English at the age of 70 for the nightmarish The Man Who Killed Don Quixote(The Man Who Killed Don Quixote), the cursed film that Terry Gilliam was never able to direct. Florida (Philippe Le Guay, 2015), the story of a man at the end of his life, losing his memory, will be his last role, at 85 years old.
With a limited contribution to the film The Grand Dukeshere is a precious documentary on the actor, enriched by the testimonies of Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Guillaume Canet, Patrice Leconte, Sandrine Kiberlain, Édouard Baer, Philippe Le Guay, Jacques Perrin and Patrice Leconte.
The image (2.35:1, 1080p, AVC), very clean, stable, with a sharpness that goes well with the grain of 35 mm, with firm contrasts, deploys a rich palette of nicely saturated colors. A successful high definition transfer!
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound clearly reproduces the dialogues, in a good balance with the musical accompaniment of Paul Estève. The separation of the two channels generates a discreet, but coherent, immersive effect in the atmosphere of theater halls.
Image credits: © M6 Film, Zoulou Films, Lambart Productions
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DVDFr | Les Grands Ducs: the complete Blu-ray review