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LE LIBERTIN (article first published : 2003-04-15)

If you smile at the thought of sumptuous costume drama hand in hand with eccentric French farce, the colourful and bawdy Le Libertin

It's hardly a noteworthy film, some critics even having sniffed that it is little more than a Gallic Carry On

All this is true, but for all its sexual overload and thickly sliced ham, it remains a curiously engaging little romp.

The plot suggests the sexual shenanigans of the handsome, married, promiscuous Diderot (Perez) were equally as important to the 18th century philosopher as the encyclopaedia he created, printed and distributed. The State and Church were fervently against the volumes and had them banned but Diderot, hiding his printing press in a chapel on the grounds of a country chateau owned by an oddball baron and his loopy and ever-hungry wife, continued to produce the encyclopaedia.

When we meet him, Diderot is struggling to complete an entry on morality. And he finds his life further complicated when the chateau is visited by tantalising painter Madame Therbouche (Fanny Ardant) and the baron's brother, the Cardinal (Michel Serrault), both of whom are set on finding and destroying the printing press.

The film is loaded with outrageous moments - not least the playing of an organ involving pigs squealing when their tails are yanked; and a nude Diderot prancing about a garden and in a waterfall while trying to convince his wife he has not been two-timing her.

Performances are generally played straight, although Serrault - unrecognisable from his turn as the sensitive cabaret queen in La Cage Aux Folles

It gets a rating of 6/10. - Billy Suter




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