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Fanfan La Tulipe

Lollobrigida and Philipe on their high horse (Rialto Pictures)

Unmemorably remade in 2003 with Vincent Perez and Penélope Cruz, Christian-Jaque’s rambunctious 1952 romp about 18th-century peasants upstaging the king’s army and winning both true love and the Seven Years’ War, returns in a new print with a fresh English translation by Lenny Borger. Sniffily dissed by Pauline Kael as a “Louis XV Western,” Fanfan la Tulipe is, for all its copious swordplay, mostly a full-service sex comedy and anti-war screed that would do nicely today as an ad for breast enlargement were not the mammaries all real, with the finest, of course, belonging to a dewy young Gina Lollobrigida. Toting her D-cups like trophies, La Lollo plays a rural fortuneteller in love with the insouciant rogue (Gérard Philipe, so twinkly and full of pep that it’s hard to believe he died of cancer only seven years later, at age 37) who, she predicts, is destined to marry into royalty. There’s nothing profound going on here, and this pristine example of cinéma de qualité must later have driven ardent French New Wavers round the bend. But as a breezy populist comedy, more farce than satire, it remains infectious, and the case made for love and sex over tyranny and death takes us back to an age when romantic leads were less self-serious and more willing to double up as buffoons. (Nuart)

—Ella Taylor


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