Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’ has a celebrated place in French literature. The 1844 novel, which follows the tale of three dedicated bodyguards of the French emperor Louis XVIII, has enough twists and turns to keep readers — and viewers of its cinematic adaptations — spellbound.
Courtiers of the French king want France and England to go to war and four men stand between them and mayhem — and overthrowing the king.
‘The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan’, out now in UAE cinemas, takes a fresh stab at the novel. Directed by Martin Bourboulon and starring Francois Civil, Romain Duris, Pio Marmai and Eva Green, the movie explores the themes of social justice, valour and honour between friends.
The novel’s popularity can be gauged from the fact that at least 50 adaptations have been made for the television or the big screen in various languages. So, what prompted the latest adaptation? “Some themes of ‘The Three Musketeers’, like friendship and treason, are totally timeless,” Bourboulon says. “But I also see this film as a huge adventure story.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Bourboulon talks about making the movie being made in two parts, the reasoning behind it and the challenges involved.
What does that novel represent for you?
There is a double-exhilaration between the audience and the director that is set off simultaneously. After that comes a burning question – how do you make a swashbuckler in 2022?
So from there I had to re-engage with the great adventure films, encompassing both personal arcs and history with a capital H. We all remember the theme of ‘The Three Musketeers’, the sense of honour and fraternity which is portrayed, how sweeping the battles are. When I think about what that novel meant to me as a kid, something really vast comes to mind.
In your opinion, how much does this story still ring true in our era?
The swashbuckler as we imagine it calls to mind the 1960s and 1970s films that made us dream. But it’s not a genre that’s renewed very frequently. So there was a sort of duty to do it now.
Please tell us about the writing process involved in the movie.
The writing took place in several stages.
There was first a very strong impulse on the part of producers Dimitri Rassam and the Pathé group, with Jérôme Seydoux and Ardavan Safaee in the lead, to reclaim a certain literary heritage, like Claude Berri and other major producers did in their time. At a time when the manner in which images are consumed is completing mutating with the advent of the platforms, we all had that desire for big screen cinema. From there, Matthieu Delaporte And Alexandre De La Patellière (the writers on the film) worked on adapting and condensing the work. Very quickly came the idea of splitting it into two stories with a single temporality.
I stepped in and gave notes on their first draft. We complement one another and we know each other well, so the back-and-forth was always easy between us. At that point we contrasted our visions so that their writing would go in the direction of the film I wanted to direct.
How did you deal with the contrasting emotions from the original novel?
That’s from the Dumas work itself and its serial structure. The conflict – whether emotional or political – with the obstacle are wonderful dramaturgic engines. Matthieu and Alexandre were able to preserve the best of the novel, with some savvy additions. That’s what gives us the impression of the film never stops, that was very important to all of us.
Was the casting obvious for you?
There is always something slightly magical about casting.
For the musketeers, François Civil, Vincent Cassel, Pio Marmaï and Romain Duris, as soon as they appear on screen their talent immediately embodies the character. I was also very happy to work with Eva Green, Vicky Krieps and Lyna Khoudri. It’s a privilege to bring those three super-talented actresses together in the same film. They each bring their power to the story. As for Louis Garrel, he managed to create a magnificent king.
Please elaborate on the female characters in the movie.
I really love those three women characters and the actresses who portray them. Women play a crucial role in this story. The destiny of France is linked to that of the Queen.
Milady de Winter is an extraordinary spy, both independent and hard to define. I was thrilled that Eva Green was available to play her, because she radiates mystery and her screen presence is very powerful. She took on a sort of super-hero aura, very effective for this kind of singular woman. For the part of Constance, I was pleased to direct Lyna Khoudri, whom I had already noticed in several films. Her story with d’Artagnan, which also links to part two, had to be engaging.
As for Vicky Krieps, she is a great actress, and I loved her when I first saw her in ‘Phantom Thread’. I was really impressed by her craft – she’s capable of communicating that she’s in love with the Duke of Buckingham and in a terrible emotional dilemma merely by the way she touches a letter with her hands.
How did you work with your actors on the language of the 17th century?
That was one of the challenges. We wanted to be faithful to that language, which is very beautiful, even as we gave it a certain modernity. I’m not a fan of rehearsals and I like to maintain a zone of insecurity, with the risk of disconcerting certain actors. I like to hunt for that magic moment on a shoot. On the set, in the sets and the costumes, we tried to strike just the right note to make the dialogue sound natural. The language had to be fluid, never “forced”.
How did you approach the sound and the music of the film?
The sound is crucial for the immersive quality I wanted to achieve with this film. The sound of gunpowder shots was, for example, something very difficult to find. It had to be baroque, and it had to have some charm for the audience, but it also had to “hit hard” in accordance with today’s sound aesthetic. For the music, meeting Guillaume Roussel, who very quickly found the tone and themes for the film, was the turning point.
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‘The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan’ is out in UAE cinemas.