- The much awaited Napoleon by Ridley Scott comes out on French screens on Wednesday.
- The French emperor has inspired many directors since the creation of cinema. In the astonishing Rzhevsky against Napoleonreleased in Russia in 2012, it is performed by Volodymyr Zelensky, the current Ukrainian president.
- 20 minutes saw this comedy which evokes the “cheesy” French comedies of the 1970s and interviewed two specialists, in very different fields.
From Albert Dieudonné, in Abel Gance’s 1927 film, to Joaquin Phoenix, in Ridley Scott’s “blockbuster” which is released in theaters this Wednesday, Napoleon has been played by generations of actors. The extraordinary journey of the French emperor has inspired works of varying quality, but rarely an OFNI (unidentified film object) like the Rzhevsky against Napoleon (Rzhevskiy protiv Napoleona in original version), directed by American-Russian Maryus Vaysberg and released in Russia in January 2012.
First originality of this short comedy (barely 1h19, but that’s already too much) based on ribald gags tinged with homophobia, anachronisms and histrionics of the actors: the Corsican strategist, at least as obsessed with female conquests as territorial (his antics in Italy are even the origin of the inclination of the Tower of Pisa…) is interpreted by Volodymyr Zelensky.
The current Ukrainian president, who has become a symbol of resistance since the Russian invasion in February 2022, is at that time a famous actor who divides his life between kyiv and Moscow. “This film is in line with certain comedies that Russians continue to appreciate,” explains Joël Chapron, a specialist in films from the cold. This form of humor was implemented through “KVN”. » At the turn of the 2000s, Zelensky and his Kvartal 95 gang were a hit in this very popular comedy show. “We see humorous skits which parody facts from everyday life, films, songs, personalities,” continues Joël Chapron, also an associate researcher at the University of Avignon.
“As for Rjevski, he is a character invented in the 1940s, both smooth-talking, flirtatious and who wants to be heroic. There have been many films inspired by what was originally a play, increasingly parodic films. With this one of which Zelensky is co-writer, we are at the end of the end of the end. There are only extremely famous actors in Russia. I don’t know how much they were paid to star in this pochade. »
Leo Tolstoy goes back in time
Let’s get to work, it’s time. Please stay focused and sorry for the “disclosure”: after the defeat at the Battle of Moskva in September 1812, the army of Tsar Alexander I decided to abandon Moscow to the imperial troops. However, the Russians intend to trap the enemy by disguising Colonel Rjevski with the help of the writer Leo Tolstoy (met in the future, since he was born in 1828). The illustrious writer accompanies his new friend back in time, and makes a surprising appearance on a flying carpet towards the end of the film. This vision, enabled by dubiously rendered special effects, has left a lasting impression on our retinas.
Napoleon will obviously fall in love with the spy, which leads to countless and heartbreaking misunderstandings. Although very busy repelling the attacks of the libidinous emperor, our pretty Russian heart finds the time to fall in love with Natacha Rostov (the heroine of War and peace by Tolstoy), herself disguised as a man to infiltrate the imperial guard! The masks will fall after a fight like Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, Moscow will burn because of a poorly controlled BDSM session, and Rjevski, newly married to Napoleon, will go to save his beloved.
Everything ends with a “happy ending” Tsarist version: after the retreat from Russia, the emperor in rags meets by chance the two lovebirds who came as tourists to Montmartre with a view of the Eiffel Tower (intended anachronism, one hopes) and these beautiful people are heading towards a smiling future, arm in arm.
“Gags that no longer have an audience today”
When the credits end, after a session of French cancan against the backdrop of the heady Moscow by Dschinghis Khan followed by an unnecessary blooper, the question immediately arises: have we seen a nanar, which triggers hilarity in spite of itself, or a common turnip? “It’s on the border between the two,” says Julien Gautier, contributor to Nanarland.com, the site for good, bad films. If I had to review it, I would maybe give it a rating of 1/5. On paper, the concept looks formidable, especially with the unexpected presence of Jean-Claude Van Damme. But in the end, it’s still quite painful. It reminds me of French or Italian comedies from the 1970s, with humor that hasn’t evolved too much since. »
On Nanarland, Rzhevsky against Napoleon could possibly find its place in the “pouet pouet comedies” category, alongside the unbeatable Führer in madness and of My wife’s name is Mauricedirected by Jean-Marie Poiré, from which our Russian film borrows the frenetic rhythm.
Nothing happens, but it doesn’t stop for a second, summarizes Julien Gautier nicely. The stories of cross-dressing, of the guy who falls in love with a girl who is actually a man, and very poorly disguised, are great classics. But here they made an entire film around this idea. It’s almost Max Pécas. Everyone only thinks about sex. These are gags that no longer have an audience today. »
We will still try to bring out some highlights of this production, of which, unfortunately, we were only able to grasp the references to Western culture (multiple attempts at the Pretty Womanthe “Hasta la Vista” of Terminator 2a poor man’s Leeloo straight out of Fifth Element):
- the most improbable passage: on several occasions, the actors start dancing Bollywood style without warning. But no musical moment equals the playback of Napoléon/Zelensky on And if you did not exist by Joe Dassin, when the emperor visits the spy he loved, imprisoned at this point in the film. “And we continue with the great classic in Spanish Quizás, quizás, quizás which also comes from nowhere,” smiles Julien Gautier.
- the cameo that serves no purpose: Jean-Claude Van Damme makes an appearance of approximately one minute 30 seconds after half an hour of film. Dressed in period costume, he speaks in French, then in English, to Rjevski, who only speaks Russian. The spy recovers the JCVD outfit after a short fight that is only suggested. Why bother putting together a choreography when you can film a closed door and add fighting noises? Had the Belgian, not very concerned, come to hide between two “direct-to-video” sessions? Obviously not, according to the Russian press of the time, which indicates that the hero of Bloodsport simply asked to be reimbursed for the trip and the stay in a large apartment in the center of kyiv, a city that he particularly appreciated for its nocturnal charms, according to the same source.
- Zelensky’s composition: From the style of the film, the acting of the Ukrainian president is closer to the overactivity of Christian Clavier (former interpreter of Napoleon himself) period Visitors than the monolithicism of Charles Bronson in the saga of Vigilante in the city. “We can’t say that he’s a bad actor, but you have to see what he plays,” summarizes Julien Gautier. Nothing to say, however, about his overall involvement, whether he emerges from the waters of a lake with a flower in his hand or launches into a dance battle in the heart of the Moscow palace.
- Napoleon seen from Russia: The emperor, plunged here in the shadow of Rzhevski, the real hero of the film, appears as a clumsy character rather than as a true antagonist. “Even if they defeated him with Alexander I, the Russians have a real respect for the personality of this man, who conquered almost all of Europe before losing his teeth on their country,” notes Joël Chapron. They are not at all vindictive towards him as they are towards Hitler. »
It is with the specialist in Russian cinema that we finish the evocation of this curious cinematographic object, which brought together 918,800 and 457,700 spectators respectively in Russian and Ukrainian cinemas. “It’s not exceptional, but it’s not bad,” he judges. “Today, this work is deep in the archives and is not about to come out, neither in Russia nor in Ukraine,” continues Joël Chapron. But even two years after its release, I don’t know if Zelensky would have agreed to star in this film, with Donbass and Crimea on the Russian side. »
Eleven years later, the pointless antics of the era have given way to the tragedy of war. Some actors left Russia, others remained loyal to Putin. As for the hero Pavel Derevianko (alias Rzhevski), he risks ten years in prison if he is convicted in an obscure cryptocurrency fraud case. And Jean-Claude Van Damme in all this? He appeared in early October in a clip from the Ukrainian defense ministry, which thanked Belgium for its support in the conflict.
Gn Fr Enter