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NAPOLEON, 2023, by Ridley Scott | review

We must start from an assumption: every film about Napoleon is divisive not only because the character is divisive, but also because it has two segments of the public it is aimed at: enthusiasts - of which a significant component can often be considered fanatics - and the profane.

Ridley Scott's Napoleon is designed exclusively for those who have less than scholastic knowledge of Napoleon and his history and many of the director's choices confirm this: the continuous repetition of the explanations, the recurring shots of the arrivals in certain places, the ;use not only of geographical indication and date but also of the chapter to accompany the simplest minds.

Napoleon is the one with the hat, even in rooms packed with people who don't wear it. And' the one who tries to look like an eagle even when it's not necessary.

Having said this, we can go into the merits: first of all him, the actor. Joaquin Phoenix is 49 years old. He wears them well, but to impersonate the 24 year old Napoleon of Toulon, a lot of CGI was needed - which in any case was not lacking and was actually abused in several scenes -.

The Napoleon represented on the screen is a man who does not evolve, fixed in his form, exactly like Phoenix in his 49 years. The uniform changes but not the attitudes: whether it is Captain Bonaparte or the Emperor Napoleon, the gestures, the language, the physicality do not change.

Phoenix's great acting skills are not exploited: we go from a cold gaze to jealous hysteria. Even the annoying and obsessive speciously erotic component of the film does not suit the man who cannot convey love, but only obsession.

The lines, few, short, absolutely not contextualized with the language of the time, are redundant, mechanical, devoid of Napoleon's famous loquacity and his rhetoric. The only worthy moment is that of the coronation in which he recites the line, badly missed by the trailers, which more or less says "I picked up the crown of France from the mud, etc." I won't go into the merits of the inability to underline that Napoleon was not Emperor of France but of the French, but that's how it is.

Her: Vanessa Kirby is gorgeous. Much more beautiful than the historical figure but even that goes by. She makes her debut in a scene that is also well constructed in terms of scenography and atmosphere, in which N sees her and stares at her. The script is wasted: "Are you staring at me?" "Yes, I'm staring at you."

No attempt to reveal the relationship planning of the young Bonaparte who sees his lover Barras through her as the key to his rise to power. And Giuseppina has many lovers and if on the one hand one almost goes so far as to judge her as a lascivious woman, on the other hand one clumsily tries to convey the concept that Napoleon's power was in any case subjected to the unguarded "surprise" that she hides between her thighs.

The sex scenes, far too numerous, ridiculous, embarrass both the public and Napoleon and descend into the grotesque. She who doesn't appear pleased, he who struggles neurotically in the embrace, the mirrors that reflect and amplify the scene as in any pornographic set with dominatrixes who indulge themselves.

No development of her suffering as a woman who is unable to give her imperial husband an heir. No understanding for his search for happiness. No development in her relationship with her children Eugenio and Ortensia.

Giuseppina has a dogmatic power, like that of her husband, which in the film seems more undeserved and casual than constructed by people of uncommon ingenuity.

Not even the letters addressed to her, used as a narrative device to move forward the too fragmentary plot, contain love. Too bad.

Practically no one remembers other characters. Neither the marshals, nor his adversaries, nor his mother, nor N.'s other lovers (of whom there is no trace except Maria Luisa). Many appear (and even an enthusiast finds it difficult to recognize them as they seem to have been chosen due to the lack of resemblance to the originals) but the choice seems random. If some like Robespierre, Barras, Talleyrand and Fouché have a few lines in which the mediocrity of men is expressed more than their historical greatness, there are fewer marshals than appearances, perhaps excluding Colaincourt on whom we linger for too much without reason.

If the objective was to have a Titan among the ants, in a certain sense the result was achieved, but more than a Titan, Scott's Napoleon is nothing more than a grasshopper à la Bug's Life.

The only secondary character that emerges in the plot is obviously the Duke of Wellington. Played by Rupert Everett, I say obviously because unfortunately from an English director one could not hope to escape the erroneous stereotype of the victory against Napoleon as an exclusively Albionic work.

To impress this idea even more, for example, there is the scene of Wellesley (the real surname of the Duke of Wellington) who "presides" the Congress of Vienna, managed, as everyone knows, by the Prince of Metternich (who for unknown reasons is portrayed in the film with a mustache that he never brought to life).

Without going into a historical analysis of the film which would be boring and, as the director said in an excusatio non petita, it's not a documentary but a film, what is missing and which in my opinion is the real underlying problem of the film, is a message: what did Scott's Napoleon want to say to the public?

  • The writings that appear before the credits list the deaths of the Napoleonic campaigns: did you want to give a reading of the Napoleon who sacrificed millions of lives for his ambition? If so, why hasn't more emphasis been placed on the massacres, on the sacrifices made by that European generation, on the blind will to continue moving "en avant" even when all was evidently lost?

  • Maybe you wanted to describe the private person instead, the man behind the mask? If this is the case, and perhaps it is really so, the result, as well as unclear in the useless alternations with poorly represented battles (little and badly) is grotesque: there is no trace of the lover, of the man of passion, of the great worker , of the control freak, there is no trace of the genius that fascinated every person he came into contact with. What emerges is a small, petty, fragile and ridiculous man: it is not clear how he came to power and kept Europe under his boot for twenty years.

  • Maybe you didn't really know what to do and you tried to do a little of everything: a little the private, a little the public man, a little the ambitious provincial, a little the good leader who exposes himself to enemy fire even when not necessary (which is stupid as well as not true except on very few occasions). Could something be done less confusing? Certainly.

A film without a message is therefore reduced to a set of disconnected scenes, awkwardly linked by the off-screen voice of the emperor who reads some passages from a letter sent to Josephine. What a banal expedient.

Is there anything good?

In general I found a decent quality of the civilian costumes and the French and English military uniforms (except for some size problems which can also be seen in the launch posters (but why?!) which, combined with a beautiful photograph, especially when without CGI interventions, it makes certain scenes particularly impactful, with a deliberately pictorial effect.

I resign myself to the fact that Austrians and Russians, except in some good dramas on War and Peace, are treated only as splashes of color without paying any attention to their estates.

The music, mostly period pieces, is appreciable even if it has been out of date for a while. the idea of an emulation of Kubrick's Barry Lindon rather than an intentionality to stick to music coeval with the era. All in all, it can be promoted.

Any scenes that can be considered quite successful?

  1. The decapitation of Marie Antoinette, with which the film opens, is truly goosebump-inducing and, although N. was not historically present, not seeing him cheering in the crowd represents his nature as a man who did not love the excesses of the Revolution;

  2. The siege of Toulon, although it didn't happen exactly like this, is well rendered and all in all it conveyed the idea of the ingenuity of the young Captain Buonaparte;

  3. The mummy scene after the battle of the Pyramids, although it is not effective, starts from the interesting starting point of Napoleon's relationship as he seeks eternity and is confronted with it;

  4. The Sacred: the coronation is well rendered although it is obviously scaled down and simplified compared to the historical fact but overall it is very effective and I appreciated the detail of David who draws the scene, perhaps I would have appreciated it more if this detail were not was then reiterated in the following scene, taking away its "subtlety".

  5. Great void of beautiful, well-rendered moments until the final scene in which N. in S. Elena claims to have won in Russia anyway while the two girls contradict him; It gives the image of the man who, even in the face of evidence, never gave in and in his Memorial will often lie shamelessly for his future glory.

And the worst scene?

Without a doubt Austerlitz: not only wanting to reduce everything to a "brawl" between armies removing every trait of Napoleonic tactics; not the fact that Moravia has become a sort of Alpine region with rugged reliefs and not an area of very gentle hills; not the absurd scene of the cannonade to hit the poor Russian knight (who for unknown reasons is carrying an Austrian flag); not the fights between the tents (but when ever?!); not the absence of the famous Austerlitz Sun; what is truly horrifying is the lack of the strategic masterpiece, of the genius that is studied in every military academy, of the ability to coordinate tens of thousands of men so that they were in the right place at the right time. It all boils down to the surprise of the frozen lake on which the naive Austro-Russians go to get bombed and drown. Really embarrassing. Not for the Austro-Russians, but for the film.

Was it true glory?

Not in this movie.

Rating: 4/10


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