A film with an impressive staging, which however always veers towards oblique, bizarre, almost experimental drifts. He shows Napoleon’s fragility and insecurities, often explicitly ridiculing him, using him as a synecdoche of the craziest and most absurd aspects of power. The review of Napoleon by Federico Gironi.
The gaze of Joaquin Phoenix and Ridley Scott’s Napoleon Bonaparte is grim, sleepy, insecure, tinged with madness. He lights up, but not too much, when he harangues his soldiers; more so, when he wants to have sex with his Giuseppina: a sex that is inevitably hasty, awkward. Ridiculous.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s Joaquin Phoenix e Ridley Scott he feels nauseous before attacking a fort in Toulon to free himself from the English occupation, and then sets off to attack on horseback, contemptuous of any danger, and falls asleep in front of his interlocutors who talk to him about politics.
Il Napoleon Bonaparte Of Joaquin Phoenix e Ridley Scottrather than his height – which is played with with a certain discretion in this film – he has the complex of being Corsican, perhaps even a bit of that of Oedipus.
He is a capricious and sulky child, gifted with incredible tactical and military skills, tragically denied in social and diplomatic relations.
The ambition – which is there, undeniable, tyrannical towards himself – is ultimately the result of family pressures (his brother Luciano, his mother’s vicar), and of his unsuccessful attempt to ensure that Giuseppina is faithful to him, and give a son.
And if Napoleon is somehow incapable of completely conquering the woman he loves in a reckless way – toxic, one would say today, and the same would be said of the relationship between him and Giuseppina – then he will want to conquer all of Europe.
The price, in terms of personal happiness and human lives, will be very high, remember Scott.
Somehow, the impression is that the Napoleon of the English director – someone who, at the age of 85, shoots with a vision, a vitality, a passion and an awareness that hopefully makes colleagues half his age want to hang up the camera – is a film that tells the tragedy of a ridiculous man.
Ridiculous and huge at the same time, since it is not so much the character Napoleon Bonaparte, in Scott’s sights, but the very idea of power. A power that may be politically absolute, but humanly laughable, grotesque, of unsuspected psychic fragility.
For this reason, as well as for anything else, discussing the historiographical accuracy of this film is a futile and superfluous exercise.
The 157-minute theatrical version of the film will certainly have been affected by the cuts made compared to the long version which will be streamed on Apple TV+, but I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t the “forced” choices that gave Napoleon the unusual, estranged, at times almost hallucinated, behavior that he.
More than the traditional Hollywood biopic that one would more than expect from a production of this type, and all in all even from a director like Ridley Scott, this Napoleon partly resembles – for certain tones, certain movements and certain nuances – the biographical films of Pablo Larrain, and in some specific and isolated circumstances almost recalls the atmospheres of some works by Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher III, Drive, even Valhalla Rising.
Then of course, there is also everything you can expect from Scott: the visual muscularity, the large crowd and battle scenes, the overall grandeur of the staging.
Yet, almost always, comes the oblique, bizarre, even ridiculous detail, which makes you wonder what’s really going on. As if the attempt was to experiment the traditional epic blockbuster.
In this, and also in the relationship between the sexes, in Bonaparte’s total and subjugated dependence on the brazen, free and highly intelligent Josephine, Scott seems to want to reaffirm – he, director of the first Alien – a supremacy of the feminine over the masculine which, in different ways, and with different meanings, emerged in his latest films.
In one of the key moments of the film, in which Napoleon, having rushed back to France from the Egyptian campaign when he learned that Josephine was cheating on him, confronts his cheating wife, the protagonist of this film, moved (almost) unconsciously like a puppet by the woman, he admits that he “is only a brute”, that he is nothing without her. And this shortly after having vehemently declared, with evident psychoanalytic value, that he was not affected by the “petty insecurities” of little men.
Once again, one of many, NApoleone emerges ridiculed by a comparison with the woman he loves (and who loves him anyway) and in general by various scenes and situations of a film which, rather than wanting to place him on a pedestal, seems to want to demolish even his last, residual values.
The Napoleon of Ridley Scott e Joaquin Phoenix he is the one who, with an undeniable charisma, is capable of returning from exile on the island of Elba, reconquering with a few words the troops he meets on his path, but he is also, and above all, the one who, after Waterloo, now a prisoner of the English, keeps hypnotized young sailors by telling them how, if only he could have had physical control of every single cannon on the battlefield, then things would have been different.
It is the Napoleon who, in the place of his final exile, the island of St. Helena, speaks to two little girls playing in front of him and boasts of having destroyed Moscow by setting it on fire during the Russian campaign. “But it was the Russians themselves who didn’t want the city to fall into his hands”, replies one, telling the truth.
Napoleon looks at her benevolently, mutters something like “look what they teach children today”, and continues eating his lunch.
After the efforts, the conquests, the loves, the triumphs and the falls, Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix’s Napoleon is nothing other than this: the equivalent of an elderly pensioner who tells slightly mythomaniac stories about his past to anyone have in sight.
Whether the stories are true or not, it doesn’t matter, the impression is the same: that of a slightly ridiculous little man who makes us feel a little sorry, a little tender.