Reviewed by: Richard F. Schmitz
Starring: Olivier Martinez, Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Carré, François Cluzet, Jean Yanne | Directed by: Jean-Paul Rappeneau | Written by: Jean-Claude Carrière, Nina Companeez, Jean-Paul Rappeneau
“Horseman on the Roof” (Le Hussard Sur Le Toit) is an exciting historical drama, with the hero a true man of honor. The film, in French with English subtitles, is set in France in the 1830s. (In French with English subtitles.)
The film opens with the main character—an Italian nobleman (played by Oliver Martinez) and revolutionary—being pursued by Austrian Hapsburg agents. If you recall your European history, the 1830s is post-Napoleon, France is relatively weak under Louis-Phillippe and Italy is divided, with the North under the control of the Hapsburgs. They are not interested in Italian unification or liberalization along the line of the Americans. After the protagonist, who is in exile, eludes his pursuers, he escapes into the southern French countryside, which is ravaged by a massive Cholera epidemic. After finding villages decimated, the protagonist finds himself in a small town in the grips of fear, anarchy and terror. There the Horseman meets a woman (Juliette Binoche) who gives him shelter and aids his escape. Later the two meet again, and together they flee the plague, assassins, and government troops who are trying to keep everyone in quarantine. Their interaction is wonderful; he lives by a code of honor and is duty-bound to continue his cause and to protect her. She’s strong-willed, and would really like to be on her way without any help. Problem is, whenever she strikes out on her own—she needs rescuing, and he’s there to do the job.
My bottom-line warning: This film is not for kids; it has some squeamish shots of dead cholera victims and the ravens who find them. There is a brief scene where the woman is nude (right at the film’s end, upper nudity) but there is no sexual content (or intent) and the scene works within the plot structure. I highly recommend this film.