Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5. France/Czech Republic, 2012. Incognita Films, EuropaCorp, France 3 Cinema, France 2 Cinema, Okko Productions, DD Productions, Hérodiade, France Télévision, Canal+, Cine@, Centre National De La Cinematographie, Procirep. Screenplay by Jean-Pierre Améris, Guillaume Laurant, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Cinematography by Gerard Simon. Produced by Thomas Anargyros, Edouard de Vésinne. Music by Stephane Moucha. Production Design by Franck Schwarz. Costume Design by Olivier Beriot. Film Editing by Philippe Bourgeuil.
Big-budget adaptation of the novel by Victor Hugo, in which the character’s disfigurement is presented more accurately than in the 1928 Paul Leni version starring Conrad Veidt. That’s about the only perk of this otherwise flimsy melodrama, about a young boy who is rescued from Comparchico gypsies by a traveling peddler (Gerard Depardieu), who finds the boy cruelly scarred with cuts on his face that resemble a permanent, gleeful smile. Depardieu raises young Gwynplaine (Marc-André Grondin) with another foundling, a blind girl (Christa Theret) whose mother froze to death, and their little nuclear family finds great success when the children have grown and they perform the story of their dramatic childhoods at rural fairs for enraptured audiences. The true-hearted Gwynplaine struggles with understanding beauty and monstrousness, loved by Dea but seduced by the world outside when his unique facial situation stop repulsing people and begins to fascinate them instead. When a sexually adventurous duchess (Emmanuelle Seigner at her most capricious) becomes obsessed with having him, it brings him into the world of aristocracy, links him to his heretofore unknown past and tests his ability to know the difference between being wanted by others and being vulnerable to their desires. Beautiful costumes and committed performances can do nothing for a film that is rendered in digital landscapes that all look fake, while its rush to get through Hugo’s plot makes the experience feel cheap; having Gwynplaine suddenly care about fixing the world’s inequities in the last act feels like a last-ditch attempt to remind us all that this comes from great literature, but fails to do so.