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War of the Worlds

Tessalit Productions

L’Empire (2024)

Fun cinema fans will remember the sequence from “Notting Hill” where Hugh Grant crashes a junket held for Julia Roberts by pretending to be the film critic for Horse & Hound magazine. When he asks her about the horses in her new movie, she gently reminds him it is set in space. Clearly Bruno Dumont, director of “L'Empire,” saw this movie at some point and said to himself, "Challenge accepted. Can I make a ridiculous space Europudding involving horses and, while I’m at it, spaceships shaped like a palace and a cathedral? I can, and I will." And by Jove he did, and the result is perfectly ridiculous. This is not a complaint.

Basically there are bad aliens and good aliens who have all settled on Earth in human form, conveniently in the same French seaside town. The main goodie is Jane (Anamaria Vartolomei) who does a lot of striding around in crop top and cape ensembles. The main baddie is Jony (Brandon Vlieghe), a fisherman who dresses like he hasn't bathed for a week so you can only imagine the smell. Jony has a toddler with an ex who is dating a new guy named Rudy (Julien Manier). When the mother picks the baby up, Rudy engineers a car crash and then beheads the mother with his lightsaber, because the mother was a baddie and he is a goodie and now the baby will be saved from the dark side! Or something. The plot is not exactly the point.

The point is that this movie is French (although it was a coproduction of five different European countries, so genuine Europudding). When Jony (on horseback) catches up with Jane as she strides through a field, he makes a few blunt suggestions as to what their human forms could be good for. Jane considers a moment, then whips off her top and suddenly they're at it in the middle of the field, while the horse discreetly looks away. This is a problem because Jony also has an evil sidekick, Line (Lyna Khoudri, who keeps upping the ante on how much I simply must hear her thoughts about her career), a bored summer resident of the town who does a lot of nude sunbathing. At one point on her way to the beach the incompetent local cops ask for ID, to which she cheerfully asks if they really think she carries it up her ass. She's also the jealous type, not that Jony cares too much. He is evil, after all.

But does this matter? Not a jot. Rudy kidnaps the toddler one afternoon and Jony raises his army of knights on horseback to get him back, which involves him kicking open the unlocked door of Rudy's mother's house by himself and then fetching the kid from inside, which takes about 10 seconds. Jane and Rudy spend a lot of time on lightsaber practice, although Jane always goes to the underwater portal which leads to the spaceship to discuss the duality of man by herself. And let’s not forget Camille Cottin as the good queen and Fabrice Luchini having a wonderful time as one of cinema’s most ridiculous evil villains. The space costumes by Alexandra Charles and Carole Chollet take every cliché about how French people have dressed throughout history through a blender. It is all so supremely ridiculous that even the rank sexism toward the actresses is only immature silliness instead of genuinely offensive. The whole thing is such a pointlessly frothy concoction that it must be strongly recommended. Why do American superhero movies involving silly battles in space get to have all the fun? “L’Empire” has naked ladies in it, which means it's automatically better.


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