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Film / Ridicule

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Ridicule is a 1996 French historical dramedy film directed by Patrice Leconte.

In 1783, the Baron Gregoire Ponceludon de Malavoy (Charles Berling) oversees the Dombes region. The place is a swamp and the peasants living in the area suffer because of the poor conditions. Ponceludon wishes to start a drainage project to improve the peasants' lives and goes to Versailles to obtain the backing of King Louis XVI. However, in order to have any chance of obtaining an audience with the king, Ponceludon has to prove to the corrupt and uncaring Versailles court that he has a sharp wit capable of producing memorable verbal jabs.

Other characters include the Marquis de Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort), a kind doctor who becomes Ponceludon's mentor in Versailles, his daughter Mathilde (Judithe Godrèche), a scientifically-minded young woman Ponceludon falls in love with, and Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant), a highly influential countess who may prove to be the ticket Ponceludon needs to see the king.


  • Betty and Veronica: Ponceludon (Archie) is attracted to Mathilde (Betty), a nice and frank girl. Then he becomes the lover of Madame de Blayac (Veronica), a manipulative bitch. Finally, he leaves Madame de Blayac for Mathilde.
  • Book Ends: The film opens with the Chevalier de Milletail taking revenge for being humiliated years ago because he stumbled during a ball. Near the end, Ponceludon is humiliated by the Chevalier de Milletail because he "stumbled" during a ball. However, while Milletail isn't the one who fell this time, he is still the one humiliated for his contempt.
  • Comeback Tomorrow: The Marquis de Bellegarde tries to reply to one of Vilecourt's quips but forgets what to say. He remembers much later when he's alone with Ponceludon and blames his slowness on his old age.
  • Dances and Balls: They are an important part of the social life of the aristocrats. If you stumble during a ball, you might be so humiliated that you do not dare to appear again in Versailles.
  • Decadent Court: The aristocrats hanging out at Versailles are shown as being more concerned with being entertained, rising up in the world and undermining each other than with the suffering of poor people. When Ponceludon tries broaching the subject at a gathering, it gets dismissed as "unpleasant".
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Mathilde is an Emotionless Girl who pretends to think that love does not exist. She plans to marry Montaliéri, an old man, just because he is wealthy. Progressively, she falls for Ponceludon and finally breaks up with Montaliéri.
  • Distant Finale: The epilogue takes place in 1794, about ten years after the bulk of the film. In the meantime, The French Revolution has started.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Happens after Ponceludon stumbles during the Masquerade Ball. He first removes his own mask and reveals his identity. Then he removes the mask of the guy who mocks him, the Chevalier de Milletail.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Baron de Guéret after being humiliated by the Abbé de Vilecourt when he was waiting in the antechamber of the king.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: The general reaction (and most importantly, the king's) to Villecourt's quip following his passionate preach. Time and place, man, time and place.
    Villecourt: Sire, I just proved to you that God exists; tomorrow I could prove the opposite.
  • Duel to the Death: Chevernoy insults Ponceludon, who challenges him to a duel. Ponceludon shoots Chevernoy down.
  • Emotionless Girl: Mathilde is a scientist and she does not believe in the power of love. She pretends to think that love simply does not exist.
  • Excrement Statement: In the opening scene, the Chevalier de Milletail pees on an old courtier as a revenge for being humiliated by him years ago.
  • Gold Digger: Mathilde de Bellegarde openly admits that she wants to marry Montaliéri because he is rich and he will back her research. Justified by the social context, where it is impossible for women to be financially independent, and by her scientific point of view about love.
  • Good Samaritan: The Marquis de Bellegarde. After Ponceludon is attacked by thieves, he treats him, then he offers to put him up and to teach him the customs of the court.
  • Heel Realization: Implied. Ponceludon's speech at the ball visibly strikes a nerve in Madame de Blayac, who takes off her mask and quietly cries while all the other aristocrats carry on partying. There's no word on whether she actually reforms, though.
  • Historical Domain Character: the Abbé de l'Epée, Louis XVI, Monsieur Chérin (Marie-Antoinette appears briefly too).
  • Impoverished Patrician: Ponceludon is a nobleman, but he is not wealthy. His mother tells him that she had to sell some land and that he will only inherit the ruins of the family castle. Ponceludon also tells the Marquis de Bellegarde that he cannot afford to stay in Versailles, because he does not have enough money.
  • Laughing at Your Own Jokes: Ponceludon is strongly cautioned by Bellegarde not to laugh at his own jokes in court.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Madame de Blayac. She persuades Ponceludon to come back to Versailles, then to sleep with her in exchange of her support. The next morning, she calls the Marquis de Bellegarde, so that Mathilde, Ponceludon's love interest, hears about their relationship. She also manages to humiliate Ponceludon twice, so that he must leave Versailles twice.
  • Masquerade Ball: The second humiliation of Ponceludon by Madame de Blayac happens during a masquerade ball.
  • May–December Romance: Mathilde, who is barely out of her teens, is going to marry an old man, Montaliéri. She does not love him, but Montaliéri is probably really attracted to her.
  • Meal Ticket: Montaliéri for Mathilde de Bellegarde. She openly admits that she wants to marry him because he is rich and he will back her research.
  • Mentor Archetype: The Marquis de Bellegarde instructs Ponceludon about how the royal court works.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Mathilde de Bellegarde (Judith Godrèche), who always wears low-cut dresses (and the camera often focuses on her cleavage).
  • Naïve Newcomer: When he arrives in Versailles, Ponceludon is naive enough to think that the king will listen to him just because his cause is just.
  • Naughty Under the Table: At a dinner Madame de Blayac notices that there are thirteen people seated and that's bad, so she comes up with a game where whoever shows the least wit before the soup arrives has to leave the table. This whole thing is to humiliate Ponceludon, so she caresses Ponceludon with her foot under the table to keep him from thinking up a good quip and he has to leave.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Chérin, the genealogist. He asks Ponceludon the baptismal certificate of an ancestor before giving him the clearance to meet the king.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: After getting tripped up at the masquerade ball, Ponceludon stands up against the aristocrats' jeering and calls them out for putting Voltaire's love of wit on a pedestal and ignoring everything else he espoused, namely compassion for the poor.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Mathilde is engaged to Montaliéri, a rich nobleman who could fund her research, but she grows attracted to Ponceludon, an Impoverished Patrician. She finally breaks up with Montaliéri and decides to live with Ponceludon.
  • Sex for Services: Ponceludon has sex with Madame de Blayac in exchange of her help to get an appointment with the king.
  • Shoutout: To Voltaire (the courtiers admire his wit) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (the Marquis de Bellegarde says he brought up Mathilde according to the principles of Émile).
  • Silly Rabbit, Romance Is for Kids!: Mathilde de Bellegarde, who is a scientist, considers that love does not exist. Therefore, she chooses to marry an old guy who can back her research.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Ponceludon and Mathilde plays chess together. Mathilde wins.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: At first Ponceludon thinks Mathilde has no business doing science experiments and inventing a diving suit, an attitude captured by one of his quips, "Nature meant for fish to be in the water and girls in their homes." Eventually he does come to respect and support her, though.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: Ponceludon kills one of King Louis XVI's officers in a pistol duel.
  • Title Drop: A few times, as "ridicule" (lacking in wit, and general humiliation) is what all the noblemen are trying to desperatly avoid in their attempts to upstage each others. The most memorable one happens when the King presents an Indian from the colonies to his courtesans, and one notes under his breath that, with the way all of them are pampered, powered and wigged compared to the way the Indian is dressed ..."for a little we would bethe ones covering ourselves in ridicule".