• Napoleon (2023)

    April 3, 2024
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    Film Poster (Public Domain)

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    Napoleon Bonaparte: I found the crown of France in the gutter. I picked it up with the tip of my sword and cleaned it, and placed it atop my own head. ~from Napoleon (2023

    Anytime a film is trashed by the Left it only makes me more curious to see what made them clutch their pearls. Yes, I know that Napoleon was not at Marie-Antoinette's execution and that in reality her hair was cut short and she wore white. And yet Marie-Antoinette is ritualistically and metaphorically dragged through the mud in most recent films and not one critic cares. So I finally was able to see Napoleon (2023) on Prime and found it to be a masterpiece, especially where sets, costumes and battle scenes are concerned. The scene where Napoleon and Josephine enter the Tuileries is a wonder. It really looks like the Tuileries, which was torn down after the Paris Commune in 1871. The coronation scene was magnificent and could have been a film in itself. And the soundtrack was a combination of classical composers with revolutionary chants as well as a moving original score. Why do the Wokesters hate it? Because it shows a confident man, a man's man, changing history? Leading troops into battle and valuing his soldiers? It is true that Napoleon, following the precedent begun by Louis XVI, chose people for offices and commands based upon merit rather than birth, and by so doing broke with long-standing tradition. Our current Woke Revolutionaries want to choose people for jobs based upon skin color or gender, as long as it is an oppressed skin color or gender. So naturally, a film about a successful white man conquering solely by his wits and military skill is an anathema to them.

    I do think that Ridley Scott made the relationship between Napoleon and Josephine more brutish than it actually was; Napoleon came from Corsica but he was not a peasant. For that matter, peasants can be romantic and even write love songs. Napoleon's rough love-making was out of character on many levels. I am not saying he was not occasionally overcome by passion but I cannot see him being a beast. And Scott does not understand the charm, refinement and coquetry of a lady like Josephine which enchanted Napoleon, and everyone else. She could be seductive without being as vulgar and whorish as Scott imagines her. Especially with a subtle actress like Vanessa Kirby, who is entrancing in the role and does not need to be coarse in order to be sexy.

    But to return to Napoleon and Marie-Antoinette... Napoleon was no where near Paris when Marie-Antoinette was killed. However, Scott begins the film with the spectacle of Marie-Antoinette and her two children hiding in a linen cupboard in the Tuileries while the palace is being ransacked by an angry mob. Then he cuts to the scene of Marie-Antoinette being publicly degraded on her way to death. While Napoleon was not there he heard about it, as did all of France. The Queen's murder was the subject of pamphlets, plays and even comedies, as is shown in the film. But her fate and that of her children haunted many. So when Napoleon gravitates to a forlorn, helpless widow with two children, it is not completely surprising. That he then spends his career trying to make that widow a queen, or more than a queen, an empress, is interesting. And that he eventually marries Marie-Antoinette's own niece is beyond irony. In the film the girl playing Marie-Louise resembles her not at all. Marie-Louise was tall and fair like most of the other Habsburgs, like Marie-Antoinette. What the film does not say is that the marriage contract Napoleon sent to Vienna was the exact contract used to arrange the marriage of the Dauphin Louis (Louis XVI) with the Austrian Archduchess Maria Antonia (Marie-Antoinette). And yet there can be no doubt that he really loved Josephine, for he died saying her name.

    Of course, the French hate the film. From The New Yorker:

    But most of the arguments against “Napoleon” were about language in another way, and more nettled. “The film is not troubled by the fact that these two . . . warring factions speak the same language (English), which never ceases to feel odd,” a film critic at Le Monde wrote. “Directed by a Briton who has long reigned over Hollywood, Napoleon is a film that essentially reminds us that the Empire has changed hands since Waterloo.” (With that slightly gnomic formula, the critic means that Hollywood runs the world as once the French did.) One can, to be sure, only imagine how Americans would feel seeing a wildly expensive and elaborate movie made about the life of Abraham Lincoln with Gérard Depardieu in the lead, and with wartime Washington perfectly realized and Gettysburg thrillingly re-created, but with everyone from bedroom to battlefield muttering and roaring in guttural French and using idiomatic French expressions to summon up the American ones—“Ah, alors!,” “Sacré bleu,” “Monsieur le President,” and so on. Such a film would convey the surreal cultural dislocation, not to mention unintended comedy, that “Napoleon” provokes in native French speakers. This is not so much a vexed issue of cultural appropriation as a more straightforward one of comic incongruity. Though languages do not, in truth, enclose singular domains of meaning, there are still patterns of behavior, ways of addressing the world, acculturated norms of discourse and style, that affect all members of a linguistic practice. (Read more.)

    Napoleon is a film about an enigmatic man and an enigmatic woman who brought each other passion and fame and then died separated by years and by miles. Each built on the legends that had gone before, becoming legends in their own right. They came to power on the tide of a Revolution meant to bring perfect equality, obtaining a higher rank than any French rulers since Charlemagne. Such irony is at the heart of the Bonaparte mythos, and perhaps the foundation of the power of our contemporary elites, who speak to us of liberty, equality and fraternity while amassing great wealth and power. And as they do so, they are forging our chains.


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    Mary-Eileen Russell

    Mary-Eileen Russell grew up in the countryside outside of Frederick, Maryland, "fair as the garden of the Lord" as the poet Whittier said of it. She graduated in 1984 from Hood College in Frederick with a BA in Psychology, and in 1985 from the State University of New York at Albany with an MA in Modern European History. She is the author of six books under the pen name of "Elena Maria Vidal." She lives in Talbot County, MD with her family.
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