Two households… well, one household, in 16th century-ish France, where we lay our scene. From childhood sibling affection break to uncontrollable adulthood passion and society is anything but civil. “You who pass by… walk on and pray for their souls.” This just might be a story of more woe, than that of Juliet and her Romeo. – Yes, I borrowed from and parodied Shakespeare to start this review because I felt the stories were comparable. Marguerite & Julien may not be from feuding households, but their relationship was despised by most and basically put them at war with the rest of their society to the point that they felt they had to flee and start over.
From the time they were children, Marguerite and Julien were inseparable; so much so that the movie kind of ignores their other brother. Marguerite was Julien’s muse. He would stare at her for hours, draw her while she poses, and play together innocently (at first). Their Priest could see an “unnatural” bond forming and tried to separate them. At his insistence, Julien was sent away to boarding school with his brother, while Marguerite was kept at home. They grew up apart, but still longed for each other as evident when they are reunited years later. They try to shy away from each other because that is what is expected, but struggling against their own feelings just leads to further problems when they do finally give in to temptation.
Along with the story is an interesting, albeit disturbing, look at the sociology of the era. The Priest comments on how women should not be in school and places the blame on her for “tempting Julien”. The story focuses a lot on Marguerite getting married, but there is little to no urgency for Julien to wed. Once wed to someone other than Julien, Marguerite is basically a prisoner with one regular visitor (Marguerite and Julien’s only ally who moves letters back and forth). When she refuses to go to bed with her husband, he seeks the company of “loose women” and nobody bats an eye, but Marguerite cheats on him and she is severely punished. I know these attitudes toward men and women are not confined to that presumed time and place, but it is still thought-provoking.
The movie does have a few quirks beyond the central love story. For one, the whole story (including some borderline graphic scenes) is framed as a kind of fairy tale or bedtime story told to a group of preteen girls in a group home-type setting. Also, the time period is not really clear as it seems to be around the 16th century, but there is a helicopter in the first scene. Perhaps the girls being told the story are in the modern era, but it’s unclear (and not too important for non-historians). Little things like these give the film a sense of fantasy in an otherwise harsh reality.
Marguerite & Julien is loosely based on a true story; some details ring true based on some quick research, but I’m not sure how much. There was a Marguerite and Julien de Ravalet who lived in the late 16th century. They had far more siblings than is depicted in the film (11 vs. 3). Other character names and traits, like their parents and Marguerite’s husband, also appear to be true to life; though the timing of real events may be different. Sadly, their real-world counterparts were executed on December 2, 1603 on charges of adultery and incest after Marguerite gave birth.
I enjoy a good dramatic love story, even taboo stories, and this one is good if you have an open mind. If you have a mind that is bound by strong religion-based morals, you may want to move along. The heart of the story is the irrepressible, passionate love between two aristocratic siblings Marguerite (Anais Demoustier) and Julien (Jeremie Elkaim). The acting was top-notch, all French-speaking artists with whom I was unfamiliar, and the locations were a joy to see. I found myself routing for the pair, but alas, things don’t work out as well as one might wish. Nonetheless, I liked the movie, overall.