Like no period piece you are likely to see

Patrice Leconte’s 1996 costume drama Ridicule is like no period piece you are likely to see this year.

This vibrant film is set around the last years of King Louis XVI Versailles’ palace. In this absurd court of manners, success depends not on birth, wealth or knowledge but on wit. However ridicule can destroy any courtier’s life. The opening scene shows a great wit of the past, now paralysed, being urinated on ironically, by someone he took the piss out of decades earlier.

Lowly baron and engineer Malavoy played by Charles Berling, enters this court hoping for royal backing for a scheme which will improve the lives of his region’s peasants. He prospers through his wit, but his amorous liaisons are his undoing. The film works because the viewer is willing to believe in this grotesque court, even in the invention of the modern diving-suit by a poor nobleman’s daughter.

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