Thu May 15,2014
By E. Nina Rothe
When I got up at dawn on Wednesday to go stand in line in front of the Palais de Festival in Cannes to watch Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly in Olivier Dahan’s ‘Grace of Monaco’, I was expecting to be entertained. With actors like Kidman, Tim Roth as Prince Rainier and Frank Langella as Father Tucker, how can a film not deliver cinematically. But I hardly expected to find a story that would change me a little bit, one that would make me look at things differently, and explained so much about the world. I did find all that, and more, in ‘Grace of Monaco’.
First things first. The film is surrounded in controversy, which of course never hurt anyone. Actually, the fact that its US distributor dropped it, then took it up again to release it much later Stateside, the French press hate it and the royal family in Monaco called it a “farce” may end up whetting audience’s appetite further. But the line at the beginning of the film clearly states that ‘Grace of Monaco’ is a “fictional account inspired by real events”. In other words, it’s a movie, people, not the news! In art, the artist is allowed to be creative, and Dahan is just that. In a way that retells history and perhaps helps us to learn from past mistakes.
The story of ‘Grace’ is simple and focuses on a critical period of nearly a year in her life as Princess, when Hitchcock came to entice her to go back to acting, her married life seemed lukewarm and France was trying to throw its weight around, attempting to colonize its neighbor, the Principality of Monaco. A strange juncture, an unfortunate series of coincidences that resulted in a very important moment in time. And a crucial time in Grace Kelly’s life. People were not who they seemed, snakes in the grass were closer than they appeared and ultimately, it was up to a woman to save the world. Or at least her world. In other words, my kind of film, through and through.
A good biopic, which ‘Grace’ isn’t really (a biopic, I mean) will disclose unknown details of a person you think you know everything about. In that regard ‘Grace’ is splendid. I learned that this Hollywood-royalty-turned-actual-royalty had an emotionally abusive father, for whom nothing she did was ever good enough, and a clueless mother. Kidman’s scene on the phone with her mother back in the US is both telling and heartbreaking. She then married Prince Rainier, whom Father Tucker describes as only being able to be “silent or angry” with Grace. The fairytale wedding was just that, quick and visible to the world, and the marriage quickly evolved, because “real love is obligation,” as Father Tucker tells Grace. In fact it’s from Langella that we get the most inspired quotes. In real life, by the way, the American priest was also the man responsible for the couple’s match, as spiritual advisor to the throne.
Among the standout performances of ‘Grace of Monaco’ is Parker Posey as the cranky, sour-faced Madge who could be or couldn’t be a traitor, Paz Vega as opera singer Maria Callas and Derek Jacobi as Count Fernando D'Aillieres, Grace’s Pygmalion of sorts. The cinematography by Eric Gautier is sublime, as is Arash Amel’s script, and I personally love the YRF Entertainment involvement as co-producers.
Perhaps the great power of this movie, which asks its audience to believe in the magic of cinema once again, and fall in love with a real-life tale of intrigue, love and diplomacy, lies in the words of Grace, uttered at the end of the film by Kidman: “Nobody has the right to crush happiness and beauty when they see it.” And this statement, about what it ultimately means to be a woman, in the world, surrounded by so much war and discord, may offer insight into why most critics haven’t really gotten the soul of this film.
‘Grace of Monaco’ opens in theaters across the UAE May 15th.