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Mesmer, 1994.

The life and times of Franz Anton Mesmer, 18th century founder, of, well, mesmerism, and with that, idea-giver to a whole generation of Gothic writers. The movie is worth watching only because of that fact alone; sadly, not so much for its own behalf: What could be an intriguing discussion of science and morals is reduced to schmaltz, and to your run-of-the-mill courtroom drama. Still, I would recommend people interested in dealing more closely with the 18th century, in whatever aspect, to watch this because of the insight into the context. While the production is surely cheesy, this is what people believed and discussed in the day.

Farinelli, 1994.

Again, a movie more interesting because of its subject than because of its cinematic achievements. I think Amadeus from 1984 is really a better treatment of a story with a similar premise. While the movie is by no means bad, and justly won a Golden Globe, I would wonder how somebody who knows about the backstory of the title character beforehand would feel about it.

La nuit de Varennes, 1982.

This movie is why treating with my subject of choice is never boring: This is, quite frankly, one of the best movies about the French revolution I know. A brilliant story, brilliantly orchestrated, and brilliantly played through by an all-star ensemble. A movie for adults, but not in the sense as today’s cinema would use that term. Unjustly (somewhat) forgotten, and unjustly scorned by the many different award shows.

I don’t even know if the movie is available on DVD right now; but if you find it, get it! 🙂

Plunkett & Macleane, 1999.

The travesty for the grand finale! I think this movie very unjustly got negative critiques from… Virtually everywhere. It’s fast-paced, funny, and, more than anything else, it’s a man’s movie about Europe in the 18th century, not the umpteenth retelling of how beautiful Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe was. – Forgive the slight chauvinism, but few other movie genres are so persistently haunted by schmaltzy tearjerkers as the late 18th-century costume drama. And while I too enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean series, what I really would want to see is more cloak and dagger movies in the fashion of Plunkett & Macleane, because it’s stuff you can watch on your couch after midnight.

My personal big revelation after a few months of reading up and reading on is how distant the 18th century really is to most modern people: We read a lot about how it ENDED, with the revolutions, but we only very seldomly get an insight in how people lived. Especially when we deal with people that lived before the revolutions, it’s important to take that into account, though.