I is another in Dumas
by Bénédicte Prot
If the first man to have let his identity merge with that of Dumas was his famous ghostwriter, Auguste Maquet, the latest to have associated his name several times with that of the larger-than-life author is the equally expansive Gérard Depardieu, who stars alongside Benoît Poelvoorde in the role of Maquet, in Safy Nebbou’s Dumas [+see also:
film profile], which had a special screening at the Berlinale.
If viewers justifiably feared it would be just another "biopic" (a costume biopic to boot), the genre often being of no biographical or cinematic interest, Nebbou it turns out was also afraid of embarking on such a project, with the result being that Dumas totally avoids this pitfall with impressive virtuosity.
The story, which is entirely fictional, in spite of the fact the director has judiciously chosen certain elements of Dumas’ life, naturally the most fantastical elements (which is well reflected in the colourful cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine, a regulator collaborator of Jacques Audiard, who was specifically chosen for the fact he had never made a historical film), begins when Dumas and his ghostwriter are suffering from writer’s block.
The duo, who are like an old married couple, with Maquet as the underling filled with admiration for the man in whose shadow he remains, live surrounded by remarkable women: Céleste (Dominique Blanc) and Caroline (Catherine Mouchet), as well as several courtesans that Dumas enjoys. Then beautiful revolutionary Charlotte (Mélanie Thierry) appears, with Maquet instantly falling in love with her and letting her believe he is the author of "The Count of Monte Cristo". The two men become direct rivals for her affection.
Once this situation has been outlined, the film jests around with role-playing and impostures ("It’s not a story, it’s a soap opera!", exclaims Céleste), which reach their culmination at the extravagant masked house-warming party organised by Dumas at his chateau, including oriental fancies. The highly theatrical event brings together, like a vaudeville comedy, at the abode of an egocentric but good-natured Dumas, a host of surprise guests who guarantee some dramatic turns of event, against a backdrop of sexual intrigues and political turmoil, all spiced up (as in one of Dumas’ famous cooking recipes) by clever lines.
Above all, in his third feature, Nebbou does not hold back, as the film’s French title (“L’Autre Dumas”) suggests, from playing on the Rimbaudian theme of "Je est un autre/Je suis un nègre" (“I is another/I am a ghostwriter”, the French word for ghostwriter being “nègre”, also meaning negro). The author Dumas is in the end an abstract entity (a name on the cover of a book, as the film shows) that even eludes the writer himself.
The story ends with the renewal of inspiration and the touching image of the two men collaborating in a harmonious atmosphere that only exists between people who, once rid of the reactions of the ego and jealousies, are very fond of and understand each other like nobody else.
(Translated from French)
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