Stars: Gérard Depardieu, Julian Glover
Vatel is a film filled with visual magnificences to be sure and splendid performances, particularly by Gérard Depardieu, yet one leaves the theater wanting more. More story, that is. All the elements of a good one are there now, it’s just that the story gets rolled over amid the incredibly lavish spectacles devised in the name of the main character.
Based on a true story, Vatel is set in 1671 when King Louis XIV ruled France as the audacious Sun King. In the west, one province is out of favor and on the brink of financial ruin, that belonging to Prince de Conde (Julian Glover) . Also at issue is whether or not the Prince will be chosen to general the King’s forces if France goes to war with Holland.
The Prince devises a scheme to get his province out of debt. He invites the King (Julian Sands) to his country chateau, Chantilly, for a weekend of festivities and then, having won his favor, he presumes the King will gladly open the royal coffers to him. That scheme is largely dependent upon one man, the Prince’s master steward, Francois Vatel (Depardieu), a creative genius when it comes to food and spectacular entertainment.
The King arrives with his entire royal court, ladies, ladies-in-waiting, advisers, pets and servants aplenty. Vatel is instructed to spare no expense, a hard task since Vatel’s kitchen owes money to just about every supplier in the province. But Vatel honestly explains the situation to them and they agree to keep him supplied with all the food and accoutrements necessary to satisfy the King. Within the King’s entourage is one beautiful woman who stands out among the rest, Anne de Montausier (Uma Thurman). She has caught the eye of not only the King, but of his adviser, the sleazy Marquis de Lauzon (Tim Roth) and of Vatel, himself. As a newcomer to the court, Anne has not yet been totally corrupted, but she knows that a woman’s place in society is totally dependent upon the man with whom she consorts. So, the King’s invitation is far more pleasing for its profitability than the Marquis’. Yet, she is thoroughly taken by the honesty and kind sentiments of the glorified servant, Vatel.
Vatel is an interesting character. He stands as commander of his kitchen and all the people who work for him thus elevating him in stature, but he is still wholly subservient to his master the Prince and must do as the Prince bids without question. Vatel is totally committed to making the King’s visit the most astounding the King’s ever seen and he works diligently to that end. In the meantime, Anne is torn by her feelings for Vatel and her place in society. It is she who reminds Vatel that his place is in the same netherworld that she must reside.
The role of Vatel is particularly well suited to Depardieu and Uma Thurman comes across nice enough as Anne. Roth and Sands make for decent adversaries. The production is lush and beautiful with exquisite costumes and scenery.
Lotta says Vatel is a feast for the eyes but otherwise is a dull offering, lacking good character development and plotting. It’s directed by Roland Joffé from a Tom Stoppard adaptation of Jeanne Labrune’s script.