Gerard Depardieu's protean presence dominates several recent DVD transfers of French films inslcluding Alexander Dumas' beloved novel of love and revenge which was adapted as a mammoth, four-part French TV miniseries. "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" (Fox Lorber,...), is the story of sea captain Edmond Dantes (Depardieu), who, in 1815, is falsely imprisoned in solitary confinement for nearly twenty years, then escapes, finds a huge treasure, takes on a new identity, gets a girlfriend and wreaks vengeance on those who betrayed him; in the process, exchanging one kind of prison for another. Filmed on numerous European locations, this was the most-watched miniseries in the history of French TV.
Richly detailed with interwoven subplots, this movie is great looking and involving, especially for those not familiar with the novel. For starters, Depardieu's plump, beardless departure from prison where he ostensibly had only bread, watery soup and no barber, is an eyebrow raiser. The screenplay adaptation by Didier Decoin is at variance with Dumas in many other instances. Characters, relationships, events and motivations are, in some cases significantly, altered, as is the ending. And these aren't improvements. They are arbitrary changes the screenwriter chose for unclear personal reasons. After all, it was not for a shortage of running time, this version runs just over five hours. Josee Dayan, a well known European director, approaches this material with moments of brilliance mixed with apparent indifference. The end result is an intriguing, watchable epic that's a fractured reflection of Dumas' great tale, but not a true mirror image. Full frame, in French with English subtitles.