Le Chevalier D'Eon
Circa 1742 (according to the box): D'eon de Beaumont is a French nobleman and knight whose sister Lia is mysteriously murdered. Dispatched by King Louis XV to recover a secret book of magical power, the Royal Psalms, D'eon finds that his quest is also revealing secrets surrounding Lia's murder.
I'll admit this series looks gorgeous (I've never seen computer animation melded so well with conventional, and the opening traveling shot down the hall of crystal chandeliers in the Palace of Versailles is magnificent.) And if having a labyrinthine plot makes a series sophisticated, then this one certainly is. I also love the closing song.
So why only 3 stars, when I've awarded much more lightweight shows 4 or 5?
Well, a few minor quibbles to start with. While the backgrounds are great, the character designs aren't so much. And the opening song is very conventional.
But of course that's not my main gripe...
Traditionally, history in films has been told two ways. You can stick fairly close to the facts (like John Sayles did in Eight Men Out or Matewan), but that can be at the expense of drama, reducing your cast to basically chess pieces. Or you can do the shut down the brain/go for the gut approach of, say, Braveheart, a movie which throws the facts (among other things) completely out the window.
Le Chevalier D'Eon mixes facts, more visceral material, and plain fantasy/horror in a strange brew that sometimes works but more often feels almost directionless. It isn't just the clash of styles that makes me uncomfortable; it's also that near-lack of an overarching theme or attitude. Film critic Roger Ebert used to say that it's not what a film is ABOUT, but HOW it's ABOUT it. And it's hard to find the "how" here.
In fairness, there's one segment that works great. D'eon and his companions' quest takes them to Russia at one point, and the ending of that segment is nearly perfect: it's shocking, yet somehow perversely satisfying, AND (zombies aside- we'll get to the zombies later) it really doesn't stray too badly from what actually happened. In this segment, the two classical approaches to historical drama are nearly perfectly melded.
The problem is, it happens halfway through the series. And everything else (including the actual ending) is anticlimax by comparison.
D'Eon is opposed by the "Poets," a cult that can use the verses of the Royal Psalms as magic spells, including the ability to turn people into zombies with mercury for blood. (I think the mercury thing is just to allow the computer people an excuse for a nifty effect.) While supposedly only royalty can actually read the Book (this is an important plot point later), the Poets themselves are an incredibly motley bunch (and specifically, I have a comment about the Poet Lorenza: the little booklet that goes with the disk says "Her body is unexpectedly developed for a girl in her mid-teens." No joke. Sailor Moon would have killed to have a body like that. There's NO WAY that girl's "mid-teens")
The Poets seem to be divided into factions: some want to unify everybody under one ruler, some prefer democracy (a faction headed by "Maximilien Robespierre"- not THAT one, not yet anyway), and some just work as mercenaries for various would-bes and has-beens.
And here we come to one of the only two underlying themes I can find in the whole series. And it's simply wrong.
You see, the monarchs in this series believe that democracy is on the way in. And that realization was simply not present in the mid-18th Century. When the French Revolution turned into The Terror, it confirmed fairly widely-held views in Europe about the dangers of "Mob Rule" (democracy). The pundits of that age fully expected the American experiment to end the same way. And when the French experiment finally ended with the defeat of Napoleon, countries that had received their first written constitutions under Bonaparte had those documents taken away, and were put back under the "proper" rulers (i.e., despots.)
It just didn't happen then. And nobody expected democracy to flourish, which is why D'Eon's most outrageous deviation from history- the business with George III- is (I believe unintentionally) so poignantly ironic. If only it HAD happened that way...
So we're 100 years too early.
The second underlying theme here is not wrong, but it's banal: it sucks to be bound by oaths of fealty to those undeserving of them. Who can argue with that?
And quite frankly I had a lot of trouble keeping track of everyone's motives- they have so many, and some of them seem so idiosyncratic, even though they DO at least tell D'eon what's on their minds (usually while trying to skewer him.)
I think the series missed some opportunities to be more interesting. For instance, at the urging of Queen Marie, D'Eon accepts Lia's spirit into his body. (You would think the fact that the Queen of France quite openly practices necromancy would raise some eyebrows in the second-most Catholic country in Europe, but I digress.) I would think that having another person in your body might make for some interesting conflict (think Lily Tomlin in Steve Martin in All of Me), but D'Eon is strangely passive about the stuff Lia does, even when she's making his body do things that alarm D'Eon's companions. I think it might have been a good thing for D'Eon to have a heart-to-heart with...well, himself. I know, that's reviewing the movie you WISH the filmmaker had made, rather than the one he DID make...but isn't that what critics DO?
And yes, I ALMOST went for four...it's a very pretty show (even the DVDs' BOXES are handsome), and it's obvious that a lot of effort went into it, though I wish the effort had been to make things a bit more coherent, and maybe a bit truer to the time period. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: (Tim) This is quite a violent series. People are seen dying frequently on-screen, often with lots of blood. The series carries around a dark tone quite often: definitely not for kids or young teenagers. There is some nudity, but it's quite mild compared to the violence. The series also has villains that use Psalms from the Bible to kill people. Christian parents should take good note of that.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Le Chevalier D'Eon © 2006 Tow Ubukata / Production I.G / Project Chevalier
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