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Wigging Out: Ben Kingsley flutters and primps as an old fraud with a cruel philosophy in 'Triumph of Love.'

Something Sweet

'Triumph of Love' kisses the treason out of a schemer

By Richard von Busack

THE SHOT-ON-DIGITAL-FILM Triumph of Love is, on the one hand, a demonstration of how far the technology has to go. It's all glare and muddy light, and the easy ability to edit digital film inspired director Clare Peploe to jump-cuts that clash with the film's 1700s surroundings. I'm presuming Peploe jump-cut for the same reason Godard did in Breathless--to reduce the running time.

On the other hand, Triumph of Love offers proof that if you're going to make impromptu-style films, then find yourself a villa to shoot in, because the architecture will supply half the appeal. Triumph of Love was made mostly in the villas Mansi and Reale near Lucca in Tuscany. The Villa Reale was the property of one of Napoleon's sisters (Elisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, I'm guessing, who was not one of the interesting sisters, like Pauline or Caroline). The cast weaves through the huge terra-cotta pots of an orangery. Glimpses of a modern-day audience imply that the story is being performed as a play on a warm summer evening. Sigh, Europe.

The talented Peploe (High Season), spouse of Bernardo Bertolucci (who produced), has adapted the film from a 1736 play by Marivaux about a princess (Mira Sorvino) who dons boy's clothes to investigate Agis (Jay Rodan, handsome but not much more than that), the son of the king whose throne her own father usurped. Her majesty correctly imagines that the young man is scheming revenge. She has half a plan; she'll find him and kiss the treason out of him. But first: deception. With a strategic handkerchief wadded into her satin trousers and calling herself "Phocion" (sounds like a robot's name), the princess infiltrates the young prince's boys-only compound, where he's being instructed in misogyny and revenge by an old fool of a philosopher.

Based on a London production that Peploe adored, Triumph of Love must have looked irresistible in the souvenir shop but turned out to be silly when she got it home. Sorvino is quite sweet in drag, yet she delivers a bigger-than-necessary American-scale performance. Even a young princess knows how to dissemble, how to hide her feelings. More noteworthy acting comes from Fiona Shaw as the spinster sister, Leontine, toying with scientific instruments, playing her harp and looking like Mother Goose. The princess treats her not just cavalierly, but cruelly. You come out of the comedy a little saddened by the thought of the elder woman's hurt feelings.

Still, Ben Kingsley is rich as the old fraud whose cruel philosophy allows for no such thing as romantic love. Kingsley, old thespian that he is, has the best role and the best sense of how to carry it out. He's never credited for being a funny man--probably because of his unnerving baldness. It's worth witnessing his girlish fluttering of his eyelashes when he admires his own portrait, and the Louis XIV wig he puts on to go to town, a peruke that looks like the pelt of a French poodle.

Triumph Of Love (PG-13; 112 min.), directed by Clare Peploe, written by Peploe, Marilyn Goldin and Bernardo Bertolucci, based on the play by Marivaux, photographed by Fabio Cianchetti and starring Mira Sorvino and Ben Kingsley, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the May 9-15, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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