What a load of insufferable wank!
If you ever thought ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (1975) was the silliest movie made about the Knights of King Arthur then you couldn’t be more wrong because may I present to you Eric Rohmer’s ‘Perceval’ (1978), a movie so ridiculous and screamingly boring that if you ever wanted to put someone off French cinema FOR LIFE then this is the movie to show them. Although if you did show this movie to anyone then I’d be amazed you had any friends to begin with.
Perceval is a naive youth who lives a sheltered life with his widowed mother. Actually, scratch that as Perceval is a bloody idiot who is so dumb that he should never have been allowed to leave the house; it’s just as well Perceval’s world is made entirely of cardboard and plywood as it means there’s nothing dangerous for him to hurt himself on. With his idiotic gaze and mop of blonde hair he’s a sort of cross between Forest Gump and the musician Beck and is so aggressively fey he makes Belle and Sebastian seem like Manowar or Saxon. As you can imagine from that description he’s irritating as fuck.
Perceval meets some knights and is instantly enamoured by them and their exciting lives and so decides to leave his mother, set out to find King Arthur and become a knight himself. Before he goes his mother gives him some sensible advice which Perceval takes to such literal extremes that he immediately becomes a menace to society.
Amazingly he DOES become a knight and so sets off on his mission to bore the audience to death (a mission at which he succeeds spectacularly I might add) and make me wish I’d put on ‘The Wild Geese’ (1978) instead. This is because ‘Perceval’ is the sort of movie that’s so annoying that, on release, it must have made the Lumiere brothers spin in their graves wishing they’d never invented cinema in the first place and had spent their time making something else, maybe the teasmade, instead if this was going to be the consequences of their actions.
Thankfully it’s not all bad as there a few charms to ‘Perceval’. Firstly, it’s extraordinarily funny. I mean, I was crying with laughter constantly during the opening hour until the movie wore me down and I was weeping for it to stop. But that opening sixty minutes is almost worth it for the French Cinema yucks and seeing just HOW up its own ass a movie can go (spoiler — all the way in).
The film also has an incredibly striking look with a minimalist, yet evocative, set design which gives ‘Perceval’ the sensation of a tapestry come to, well “life” would be too generous a word to use. Maybe a semi-comatose state would be more accurate. The only problem is tapestries and movies are two completely different things. How do I know? Because if you put a tapestry into a projector the sprockets get clogged up.
Of course this does beg the question — “If this is a merging of theatre, cinema and needle-work then how will Rohmer shoot and edit within this asinine world?” It was a question I found endlessly fascinating as I watched the film, but I suspect I only found it endlessly fascinating because the rest of the movie was so fucking dull that I needed something interesting to think about.
All in all ‘Perceval’ is a ludicrous experiment in hyper-minimalism, petrified acting, solid state pacing and irritation which seems to exist on the molecular level as Rohmer’s film delicately treads the fine line between the inspired and the idiotic, slips and falls firmly on its jacksie in the side of the idiotic. As a tale about knights, Arthur and the Grail it’s even more silly and pretentious than John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ (1981), and that’s saying something.