Triumph of Love, TheReviewed By Thom
Posted 04/21/02 05:10:30
(Worth A Look)
With a scientific fascination, Pierre Marivaux’s 18th century comedy, Triumph of Love, examines how love can be not only rule us but be used to rule others. Ultimately, love has a power and will of it’s own but it can also be used as a tool. Mira Sorvino plays essentially four roles, primarily a princess, and it was what attracted her to the film. “What an incredible tour-de-force role to take on”, she said.Sorvino was afraid that the character’s duplicitous nature would make her unlikeable and there are times when you wonder how someone doing something so despicable as to intentionally break a person’s heart could be doing it out of the madness of love. That’s the key. The madness of love. “He’s saying love can make fools of us all, it can be cruel and humiliating and yet without that experience, we can’t really understand human nature. He dissects those feelings of love.”, said director Claire Peploe.
While Triumph of Love is a flawed comedy in many ways, it’s an excellent vehicle for 18th century situation comedy. But it is also very probing. Marivaux wants to look at love as a phenomenon and dissect it in the laboratory of this play. Unintentionally or no, the film also discreetly explores same sex love but ultimately, because this is the 18th century (20th century?), all must be made right and natural in the end.
Ben Kingsley plays the remarkably charming scholar Hermocrates who has made a vow against love and forbids women, except his sister, from studying with him in his private garden villa. The Princess must get crafty if she is to stay. She has come to win the heart of Agis (Jay Rodan), the true heir to the throne she holds. Agis has been taught to hate her by Hermocrates so she must go in disguise.
The princess invents her plot as she goes along, thinking that in the guise of a male scholar, he could reason with Agis and help soften his attitude toward the Princess. He has also been trained to distrust women but the old black magic of lust gives the Princess an opportunity to have him fall for her womanhood first. There is the potential that Agis may have homosexual feelings for the disguised Princess and she quickly determines that his loneliness for companionship and his seperation from the outside world have just made him passionately innocent towards his new male companion.
Kingsley’s character is full of expression, proudly shaking his feathers like a thunderous peacock and vainly staring into the mirror of himself until he too becomes undone by the spell that the Princess places on him as she appeals to the parts of him that naturally crave and desire love and affection. The Princess knows exactly what to say to first flatter and then woo. “I don’t think making ourselves invulnerable to our feelings will help us at all in life. We only grow when we allow ourselves to be challenged by those feelings that do overwhelm us occassionally.”, said Kingsley about his character.
She must appeal to Hermocrates sister, Leontine (Fiona Shaw), in the same way if she is to be granted permission to remain on the grounds so she can pursure Agis, the secret prince. Her scene where she kisses Leontine, “was one of her favorite scenes”, said Sorvino. I don’t buy the theory that the Princess had to circumvent a homosexual relationship with Agis as the disguised man-scholar because she clearly had to engage in a disguised homosexual attraction with Leontine. Eventually, she winds up engaged to them all.
The ultimate transformation of the characters as they abandon themselves to love and the high pitch their fever takes makes this film a joy to watch. Outside of the costumes and the period setting, I enjoyed the sheer spectacle of contained, rational, repressed people becoming helplessly undone by the fire of passion and desire for another. There weren’t a lot of indications that these people could be swayed so easily, which is why the play is flawed. We are just asked to suspend disbelief rather than being carefully led into the psychology of the play.
While it would be easy to paint the princess as a tyrant, her intentions are good. The one person who you really feel for is the Leontine who has always denied herself the pleasure of love for the sake of her brother and who now thinks she hold love in her hands. Her fall will be great indeed. But there is a gift in that deception. A happy accident wherein she finally sees the missing piece of her experiments in electricity and in a Mary Shelly like ending, she is able to recreate physical electricity in the same way the Princess creates emotional electricity. It is as if the laws of nature are the same on a spiritual as well as physical level which was the great hope of Enlightenment era thinkers as well the secret religion of the Romantics.
In the play, Leontine is not a scientist. Peploe read in Voltaire in Love that Voltaire had a mistress who was a scientist and decided to turn Leontine into one. The motif of scientific exploration and discovery of the subtle planes, which was the basis of alchemy and in the 18th century had still not become what we now call psychology, or astronomy or chemistry, becomes an important catch-all theme for the play.One especially interesting part of the film are brief flashes of a modern audience who Leontine hallucinates. We are given startling reminders that it is a play we are watching and the modern era is brought right into the movie. At the end, the principal cast comes out to sing to the seated outdoor audience in modern street clothes. The song was Kingsley’s idea and it’s a wonderful way to end the play/movie. The song is available on the soundtrack.
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