(A film discussion
on Spring in January-February 1998)
Today we begin the discussion of the lanky lawyer and his porky pal. But I still have no idea who those people are on the front cover ;-) [Ed. Note: US cover of The Advocate]
What did he say to her after she asks him to stay inside her? What did they call him, Matra?
Here is Roger Ebert's review when it first came out (September 2, 1994):
There was a time in the Middle Ages, so "The Advocate" informs us, when animals were held accountable to the same laws as men, and could be brought into court, tried, and sentenced. The film opens, in fact, with a man and his donkey standing on a gallows, being prepared to die for a crime against nature. Because of a last minute appeal, luckily, the donkey goes free.
That scene more or less sets the tone for "The Advocate," a quirky British film that seems to aim halfway between Monty Python and "Sommersby." The hero is Richard Courtois (Colin Firth), who after becoming a lawyer in Paris journeys out to the provinces to set up shop in the hamlet of Abbeville. He seems a curiously modern lawyer, more Perry Mason than medieval, as he tries to use logic against a crusty old magistrate whose primary interest is to see that things are done exactly as they always have been done. The times seem precariously balanced between ancient and modern. The district is ruled by a Seigneur (Nicol Williamson), who lives in the local castle and holds court and has things his way. But on the other hand, he is not a hereditary lord, and is happy to explain to Courtois that he made a bundle in business, and bought his lands and the title that went with it. And he has his problems, chief among them marrying off his daughter, Filette (Lysette Anthony), who is 20, and therefore long in the tooth, marriage-wise. "I know she brays like a she-ass, but she's got good, sweaty flesh on her," the Seigneur assures the lawyer. Courtois is not much interested. His eye has been caught by a buxom Gypsy lass named Samira (Amina Annabi), who, like all independent women of the time, lives in permanent danger of being burned as a witch. She is passionate and of good humor, two attributes important to the lawyer—and she has a nice moment when she screams what sounds like an evil ancient curse, and then later confesses it was only a gypsy nursery rhyme. Delivery is everything. In the course of the movie, Courtois will be called upon to defend not only Samira, but also another local woman accused of witchcraft, and various other clients, including a pig and some rats.
He does his best. And the movie does its curious best, too; without quite declaring itself a satire or a comedy, it works in a great deal of sly humor, as in the exchanges between Courtois and his law clerk (Jim Carter), who understands the town a great deal better than his boss does. Nicol Williamson, too rarely seen in the movies, has a great magisterial vulgarity as the Seigneur, reducing everything and everyone to his own piggish tastes.
And it was good to see Donald Pleasence again, as the local prosecutor. Pleasence was a mainstay of British horror movies in the 1960s and 1970s (and of most of the "Halloween" pictures), and exudes a certain air of conspiratorial menace that is all the more unsettling when he's on the side of the law.
"The Advocate" is a hard film to categorize, which may be why its distributor, Miramax, has worked overtime, first to publicize an argument with the always helpful MPAA ratings board, and then with an ad campaign begging audiences not to reveal the "secret." That was a legitimate gimmick when Miramax was protecting the secret of "The Crying Game," but how crucial can a secret be in a film which was released in England as "Hour of the Pig," more or less revealing all that Miramax would conceal? "The Advocate" doesn't depend on sex or secrets for its charm, but earns it on its own.
(Ebert) a quirky British film that seems to aim halfway between Monty
Python and "Sommersby."
a Seigneur...has his problems, chief among them marrying off his daughter..."I
know she brays like a she-ass, but she's got good, sweaty flesh on her,"
the Seigneur assures the lawyer.
(Ebert) it works in a great deal of sly humor, as in the exchanges
between Courtois and his law clerk (Jim Carter), who understands the town
a great deal better than his boss does.
What bugs me about Roger's review is that he never mentions Colin's performance. What is going on? He mentions everyone else.
The Porker is a Corker? I don't get it.
At the end when he tells Samira that he loves her, he doesn't sound too convinced to me, a feeling which is strengthened by the way he starts to ogle the girl in the wagon on his way back to Paris. I think that Samira was right. He was in love with the idea of loving her.
(Laura) I didn't think Samira was all that attractive
(Karen) maitre...A title of respect, meaning master
(Renate) The Porker is a Corker
BTW, the Advocate is the most comely in the entire production, but I am biased.
I love the scenes with the Seigneur and with Filette. Their little charming exchange when he is first introduced to her is a hoot. "The cell I would put him in is warm indeed and he would never want to come out again."
I agree, Karen, you'd have to call this movie a satire (church vs. state?). It's not a true comedy, though I laughed a lot, but a thriller? I've seen it categorized that way too. I admit the very first time I saw it I thought Richard may have been in trouble when he was found spying on the Seigneur's little group, but of course now we all know it was part of the comedy of it.
Of course Richard is a very likable character, a noble man. I like that he was able to give the woman accused of witchery her dignity back.
He had his Darcy walk going for him when he barged into the castle to tell the Seigneur that he knew his son had killed the boy.
Loved the boots, hated the hair. Loved the stubble he had almost constantly. There's one shot of him at night leaning over the balcony just before he turns back to his room to find Samira there. It's shot from below so you really see his strong jaw and the wind is blowing his hair. Yum.
Kate, could you look that up in the law lib?
(Heide) My favorite is...where Donald Pleasence says, "the pig ate
a portion of his body although it was Friday" and...Richard gives such
a cute bark of a laugh and then looks sheepish.
Speaking of teeth, how about the smiling dog? How did the wrangler get the dog to do that? I know about peanut butter, but not a grin like that!
Many little bits reminded me of P&P. When he is talking to Jeannine Martin, the witch, and says "I want her dressed now," for some reason, it sounded like a few of his more impatient lines in P&P. Then, when he counsels Jeannine, he says, "Trust me, it's an arrangement," it reminds me of when he asks Elizabeth if she likes Pemberley. Strange, huh?
Most importantly, he does a Look. Now, who else saw it?
(Karen) Could it be that the master's terminology came from the trades,
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