On Guard (original title: Le Bossu) tells a
swashbuckling tale of a swordsman (Daniel Auteil) who ends up
entangled in the life of a duke and his scheming cousin in
18th-century France. It's a lavish-looking film, with plenty of
lovely location settings, elegant costumes, and
beautifully-choreographed fencing sequences. Yet somehow On Guard
feels distant, like a set of elegant engravings that you can flip
through and admire bits of, without taking a particular interest in
the whole experience.
One problem here may be that On Guard barely has time to
arrange its pieces on the board before the plot starts moving them
around. It's not made particularly clear who Lagardiere is – at
first he seems just like a random fellow who challenges the Duke of
Nevers at a fencing salle – and there's certainly no background
built up to show that he's the outstanding swordsman that he's
supposed to be. Similarly, the Duke of Nevers is hurried on stage and
involved in intrigue before we really know who he is, and his
relationship with Lagardiere is likewise rushed through. Given what
we're shown, it's not really credible that Lagardiere would devote
himself to the Duke's orphaned daughter the way he does; there's just
not enough evidence of a lasting bond to make this believable.
The rest of the film is reasonably well done, as we see Lagardiere
raising the Duke's daughter and eventually trying to set things right
and avenge the Duke, but the fact that the film never really sets its
hook in the viewer at the beginning certainly takes its toll, as it's
hard to be engaged in the characters' adventures. It doesn't help
matters any that On Guard seems determined to inject a certain
amount of humor into the story; Lagardiere is depicted as almost a
buffoon at first, and Gonzague is played slightly over-the-top,
giving the film an odd tone that really doesn't fit with the
"swashbuckling adventure" story as a whole.
Speaking of peculiar aspects of the movie, for some reason the
filmmakers decided that the story wouldn't be complete without a love
interest for Lagardiere... in the form of the girl he's raised as a
daughter. OK, she's not his biological daughter, but my reaction can
still be summed up in one word: ick.
One thing that On Guard does handle very well is its fight
scenes, which feature some very nice, very realistic fencing. (I'm a
competitive fencer myself, so I watch for these things).
On Guard is presented in anamorphic widescreen at its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and
looks quite good. Colors are bright and natural-looking, and the
print as a whole is clean, though a few flaws and some edge
enhancement do creep in. What's holding it back from a better score
is the fact that the contrast in the dark scenes is a bit too heavy.
The English subtitles are optional.
The French soundtrack offers an excellent listening experience. It's
described as Dolby 2/2 surround sound, which is a bit odd, but what
that actually seems to mean is that the soundtrack uses two front
channels and two back channels. In any case, it provides a nicely
immersive track that sounds like a good 5.1 track. The sound is crisp
and clean, from dialogue to the clicks and clacks of swords. The
musical part of the soundtrack is balanced well with the rest of the
track, although the fact that the musical style doesn't match the
film's period setting is a bit jarring. The surround channels are put
to good use in a number of scenes, creating a nicely immersive
experience. Optional English subtitles are included.
The main special feature is a set of interview clips from director
Philippe de Broca and actors Daniel Auteil, Fabrice Luchini, Vincent
Perez, and Marie Gillain, totaling about 25 minutes. These are in
French with English subtitles. The participants discuss a variety of
topics related to the film, and while they're not the most gripping
interviews I've ever seen, fans of the film will likely find them
The other main special feature is a set of six "behind the
scenes" segments, totaling about nine minutes. These aren't
really that interesting, as they're literally
just a glimpse behind the scenes, with no narration or information
about what's going on. Lastly, the DVD includes the French and
international versions of the theatrical trailer.
Guard didn't really connect with me, but it does have its merits
as a swashbuckling period adventure with solid production values. If
the story sounds interesting, it's probably worth checking out as a