1498. Rome, the powerhouse of the Renaissance, is
governed by the tyrannical Cesare Borgia, a man who has no scruples
when it comes to furthering his political ambitions. To secure an
alliance with Naples, he has arranged that his sister Lucrezia shall
marry Alphonse, the Duke of Aragon. On the eve of her wedding,
Lucrezia secretly joins a street carnival, where she meets and falls
instantly in love with a stranger - who later turns out to be her
intended husband. It is not long before Alphonse realises
the extent of Cesare's cruelty and thirst for power.
Lucrezia reveals how her brother has used her in the past for his
political ends. When the Duke of Aragon is of no further
use to Cesare, he will surely meet the same fate as his predecessors...
This sumptuous Franco-Italian blockbuster production exemplifies
historical film dramas of the 1950s - beautifully shot in Technicolor
and showing a meticulous attention to detail in its lavish costume and
set design, to say nothing of the exciting, well-choreographed action
sequences. Whilst the film may be legitimately criticised for its
overly sympathetic portrayal of Lucrezia Borgia (you'd almost think she
was heading for a sainthood), it would not be fair to fault its
production values. The film looks stunning.
Since the extent of the complicity of Lucrezia Borgia in her brother's
Machiavellian schemes is a matter of considerable conjecture, director
Christian-Jaque is perhaps justified in presenting her as an innocent
party, a pawn in Cesare Borgia's nasty political games. Even so,
it's a little difficult to swallow Martine Carol's slightly
over-sentimental portrayal of Lucrezia, face stained with tears
whenever brother Cesare does the dirty on her. What is missing is
some motivation for Lucrezia's acquiescence to her brother's plans - is it
sibling loyalty or is she genuinely helpless?
Attractive as the film is, it does have a slightly irksome theatrical artificiality
(it doesn't help that Pedro Armendariz's Cesare Borgia has all the subtlety of a stock pantomime
villain). That said, the film does pack a few punches. Some of the
darker sequences (such as the gruesome man hunt) do have a shocking,
almost visceral, realism, making the film unsuitable for youngsters. Likewise,
the ending, whilst
a tad contrived, has a genuine poignancy about it.
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