The Horseman on the Roof (1995)

Jean-Paul Rappeneau directs Olivier Martinez, Juliette Binoche and Pierre Arditi in this French historical romance where an Italian colonel goes on the run through Provence while the countryside is ravaged by cholera.

In its day this was the most expensive homegrown French movie. I cannot think of any purely British production that matches it in sweep or scale. The first hour is a chase movie, a series of swashbuckling cliffhangers. The Austrian secret police are hot on our trail, death is everywhere, the authorities and the rabble turn into a rampaging lynch mob as pestilence grips. Packed with incidents and a fresh mini drama with each location shift – the first half flies by. Then top-billed Juliette Binoche turns up, things slow. Our deadly pursuers have already been thwarted by plague or pistol. We traverse the country with less urgency. Usually, Binoche is the highlight of any movie but she doesn’t seem to have much chemistry with Martinez. If the attempt was to make a Napoleonic The African Queen or Romancing the Stone then the heat just isn’t there. Two beautiful people who never have a meaningful interlude. The shift in pace wearies you. There’s still plenty of shots of lively animals, gorgeous dresses and bucolic scenery. There are still adventurous moments like when a murder of crows seem to dominate the landscape. Yet it is fair to say the entertainment value is sapped from the drawn out conclusion which again feels like it is out of rhythm with what started so well. As an evening filler though I’m surprised The Horseman On The Roof isn’t talked of more. It gets so much right and certainly feels like a quality release.


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