sEven before Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” hits theaters, it is criticized. Television historian Dan Snow complained in a viral TikTok post that the military commander never bombed the pyramids. And when Marie Antoinette, the last French queen, was beheaded, her hair was shaved and without blonde curls, as seen in the trailer. And Napoleon was certainly not personally in the crowd and, equipped with Joaquin Phoenix’s most arrogant harelip, impassively acknowledged the terrible spectacle.
Ridley Scott, in turn, told Snow that he should live a life instead of wasting time on such nonsense. And Scott, one of the great strategists of American cinema, is right. For the purposes of the film, it is completely irrelevant whether Marie Antoinette’s long or short hair was curly on October 6, 1793. And the fact that Scott and his screenwriter David Scarpa quickly blend their protagonist into the crowd is a clever cinematic move: it is It’s all about compression. Which is sometimes nothing more than poetry.
Much of the life of the man born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica, is hidden in the fog of war of history. “What really happened on October 5, 1795 remains a mystery,” writes his biographer Adam Zamoyski, although the events of that day were crucial for the revolution and for the man, Napoleone Buonaparte, as he was baptized in Italian. “But his role in this is the most elusive,” Zamoyski writes.
We are talking about the day when Napoleon apparently ordered dozens of cannons to be brought in quickly before sunrise, in order to suppress a monarchist revolt against the young republic, whose military leader he had just installed in a coup d’état. Napoleon, so to speak, defended the government of the people against the people who, after many years of revolution and reign of terror, yearned for the ordering hand of a king. Napoleon, however, built his previous career and his future in the republic, which in itself guaranteed him unhindered social mobility. What did he care about the crowd’s opinion?
Historians also argue about the validity of the central quotes attributed to him. “A man like me gives a damn about the lives of a million people,” Napoleon is reported to have told Austrian Foreign Minister Metternich on 26 June 1813, who was in the process of successfully luring him into a fatal war against Europe’s allies. . Metternich publishes the phrase in his memoirs. It is not necessary to look at Israel and Gaza to understand that in war the first victim is always the truth, whose corpse is left by party propaganda.
The vast majority of what we know about such a figure of the century, not to mention what we don’t know, cannot be compressed into less than three hours. Scott, at nearly 86, one of the world’s most battle-savvy directors, who made almost as many films as Napoleon fought battles (56 to 61), deftly recounts a life in highlights. The aforementioned battle with the royalists in 1795 is among them. As always, apparently impassive, Napoleon gives the order to shoot. The cannons roar. Bullets fly. The smoke dissipates. The king’s loyalists are in pieces. Napoleon’s rapid rise continues – once again, as always, over corpses.
It all started with the Battle of Toulon, when the young officer came up with the daring plan to take two forts controlled by the English. The cannons could then be used to fire on the English fleet in the harbor and the city would have to surrender. The young commander, who was not yet 25 years old at the time, demonstrated brilliant calculation, but he was also a daredevil. He threw himself into battle, as was his habit. A cannonball shot the horse beneath him. This historically documented scene can also be found in the film. After the victorious battle, Napoleon searches the animal’s intestines, fishes out the ball, throws it to his brother Lucien and says: “For mother”.
Women play a central role in his life. “Say you’re nothing without me – and without your mother,” Joséphine de Beauharnais (absolutely brilliant: Vanessa Kirby) breathes to her husband. Napoleon, played by Phoenix like the strange sociopath his biographers say he was, wooed her in monosyllables until she, as familiar with social ambition as he was, agreed to the marriage. A few scenes earlier, he returned home furious due to the Egyptian campaign – which was going very badly, regardless of whether he actually shot at the pyramids or not. The way contemporary tabloids spread rumors of Joséphine’s affair reached Cairo. Phoenix has just stood in front of the Sphinx (here Scott respectfully copies the famous painting “Bonaparte in front of the Sphinx” by Jean-Léon Gérome) and has a silent conversation with a mummified pharaoh. Now he angrily hits the folding table with the newspaper. Now let’s go home, risking the accusation that he deserted.
“Whose country is this?” he shouts at the Directory, a puppet of short-lived power after the fall of revolutionary leader Robespierre, who wants to reprimand him for his unauthorized departure. “My.” The shameless coronation as emperor will take place soon. In reality, there are years between them. The film quickens the pace. This is definitely in the spirit of the main character. “I found the crown of France in the gutter,” Napoleon abruptly cuts short the enthronement ceremony, “and I am putting it on my own head.” . Europe’s noble houses everywhere are thumbing their noses at the Corsican bully who has uninhibitedly clawed his way to the top.
Complete battle painting
Scott reported in an interview that Phoenix had trouble taking on the role for a long time. They met two weeks before filming began and discussed everything in detail. The whole book changed and became bigger and better. The film doesn’t get too close to the general and ruler. His psyche and true motives remain contradictory. The decision to leave out childhood and youth in Corsica and cadet schools serves the narrative economy, but leaves crucial things in the dark: the genesis of excessive ambition, misanthropy, the decision to seek one’s own progress through cunning, of deception and unlimited escalation of violence. Phoenix himself advises interested viewers to turn to one of the numerous biographies for a better understanding of this necessarily laborious life. Or you’ll have to wait for Steven Spielberg’s seven-part HBO series, which that other Hollywood giant is currently developing based on a Kubrick project that never came to fruition.
Yet Scott’s film is a masterpiece, a complete battle painting the likes of which have not been seen since “Braveheart” or “Gladiator.” The Battle of Austerlitz in particular, in which Napoleon lures his enemies into a frozen lake and then drowns them in a hail of cannonballs, has an intensity and terrifying beauty that will go down in history in a similar way to the era. creating an event, which she illustrates.