Friday, November 25, 2005

Casus belli

In the Times today:

Diana tragedy turns into a French farce
From Charles Bremner in Paris

A GLAMOROUS princess catches her husband in adultery, then revenges herself, becoming a global star and charity saint. She takes her gym instructor to bed, manipulates the media against the Royal Family, gives a devastating British TV interview and is killed falling off Tower Bridge.

Although not exactly the life story of Diana, Princess of Wales, this familiar tale is the plot of an all-star comedy film that opened in France this week to high acclaim and packed cinemas.

Palais Royal, written and directed by and starring Valérie Lemercier, a leading French actress-comedian, is set in a dysfunctional French-speaking royal family somewhere in Europe. But even without its extensive London scenes, there is no doubt about its subject. Palais Royal is the first big budget satire on the life and times of Princess Diana.

It is also difficult not to see a little Franco-British one-upmanship behind the lavish launch that the French media have given the film, in which Catherine Deneuve is a diabolical Queen and Lambert Wilson plays a tiresome, polo-playing Prince.

The Princess Diana send-up is obvious from the opening scene, in which mourners pile teddy bears, flowers and notes at the palace gates and a female pastiche of Sir Elton John warbles a joke Candle in the Wind at the funeral service for “Princesse Armelle”.

At the opening night in Paris on Wednesday, the audience roared with mirth as Lemercier camped up the trouble-making Princess, who joins the Royal Family as a virginal speech therapist. She imitates Princess Diana’s gestures and magazine photo-shoots and copies her Muslim head-covering while on charity missions.

The French proudly cherish their unique ability to irritate. They’re the national equivalent of the child who pesters and prods and provokes her older brother until he finally snaps, gives her a thump, and off she goes screaming for Mummy.

Actually, this film might be quite funny, if a little like shooting fish in a barrel as far as satirical targets go.

Almost as soft a target as that of this joke:

Q: What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their arms in the air?
A: The Army.

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