‘The Count Of Monte-Cristo’ Review: Sumptuous And Thrilling French Version Of Classic Revenge Tale Feels New All Over Again – Cannes Film Festival

Take your pick. There have been countless film and TV productions adapting Alexandre Dumas’ classic 19th century tale of revenge and deception, The Count of Monte Cristo. We have seen it in different versions in 1934, 1954, 1975, 2002 and probably up to 15 more iterations. Now we have the latest, the lavish widescreen French production Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, which had its world premiere Wednesday night Out of Competition to a wildly approving full audience at the Grand Lumiere — an appropriate place to launch this film as the screen might be the best in the world, and this movie is big.

In addition to all those past film versions on the book, there are countless other movies that have stolen from this complexly plotted tale. For some reason I kept thinking of the Ocean’s movies as, like this, they involve lots of complicated plotting, and once our title character begins planning his revenge against those who did him wrong, he comes up with terribly clever ideas to pull off the caper.

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Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere, the screenwriters behind another Dumas adaptation, the recent two-part The Three Musketeers, have taken on the directing reins here as well this time and spectacularly made a Monte-Cristo that modern audiences will eat up. It is certainly true to the 1,400-page book but condensed expertly into a three-hour movie that doesn’t feel its length at all. It also has been well-cast with a large number of French stars led by Pierre Niney as Edmond Dantès. When we meet him, he is a ship’s first mate and gets credit for saving the day during a disaster at sea and a possible promotion to commander, but he is set up out of jealousy by shipmates and friends, Fernand de Marcef (Bastien Bouillon) and Danglars (Patrick Mille).

Throw in devious magistrate Villefort (Laurent Lafitte), and you have who turn out to be the three prime suspects managing to double cross Dantès, who is taken away in the middle of his wedding ceremony to true love Mercedes (Anaïs Demoustier). Thinking it can all be cleared up, it can’t when “evidence” appears and Dantès unfairly is deemed guilty without a trial and sent away to a miserable Marseilles prison, Chateau d’If. He in solitary confinement for four years before he meets another inmate, Abbot Faria (Pierfrancesco Favino), who engages him in his continuing scheme to dig a tunnel to escape the island fortress. He tells Dantès of a treasure that can be retrieved once they are out.

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Ten years pass, and finally they are near their goal when Faria is killed in a cave-in. Dantès switches places in the bag the supposedly dead Abbot is being hauled out in. He is thrown into the ocean before officials discover the switch.

Cut to high society in Paris, and the now-radicalized Dantès has taken on new identities, notably as the very rich (that treasure helped) Count of Monte-Cristo, and joined by a young associate as he is hellbent on a scheme to get revenge on the three who wronged him. It’s a particularly emotional assignment since de Marcef, who had desired Dantès’ fiancée Mercedes, married her and had kids. Dantes also takes on other identities along the way to hatch his elaborate plot. Characters weave in and out, twists are revealed, and it becomes great fun to watch it all unfold.

Niney makes the perfect Dantès/Count, a man who had a bright future taken away from him and now, after 14 years in captivity, wears the mask of a man out for revenge, pure and simple. Mille, Lafitte and Bouillon are ideal foils, craftily playing guys we want to root against. The women are given rich roles as well, particularly DeMousier as the very confused Mercedes, who thought her near-husband was dead, and Anamaria Vartolomei as Haydée, who was bought out of slavery by the Count and desires freedom from his psychological grip. Vartolomei also has been seen prominently in Cannes this week as Last Tango In Paris actress Maria Schneider in Being Maria. She is equally fine here in another juicy role.

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Remarkably made for under $50 million, the production looks stunning, from its superior cinematography by Nicolas Bolduc, magnificent production design by Stéphane Taillasson and an excellent score from Jérôme Rebotier.

Delaporte and de la Patellliere have made something fresh and exciting from one of the oldest stories around, the kind of movie quite frankly Hollywood should be making and a film that is one of the best I saw in Cannes this year.

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Title: The Count of Monte-Cristo
Festival: Cannes Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films (U.S.); Pathe (France/International)
Release Date: June 28, 2024 (France)
Directors-screenwriters: Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere
Cast: Pierre Niney, Bastien Bouillon, Patrick Mille, Vasilli Schneider, Pierfrancesco Favino, Anaïs DeMoustier, Laurent Lafitte, Anamaria Vartolomei, Julien de Saint-Jean
Running time: 2 hr, 58 min

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