Venere imperiale (Imperial Venus) (1963)



Director:   Jean Delannoy. 

Starring:    Giulio Bosetti (Camillo Borghese),  Stephen Boyd (Jules de Canouville),  Lilla Brignone (Letizia),  Tino Carraro (Canova),  Claudio Catania (Gerolamo Bonaparte),  Liana Del Balzo (Principessa Borghese),  Giustino Durano (Bousque),  Massimo Girotti (Leclerc),  Marco Guglielmi (Junot),  Gina Lollobrigida (Paulette Bonaparte),  Evi Maltagliati (Madame Adelaide),  Kathy O'Brien (Cameriera),  Raymond Pellegrin (Napoleon Bonaparte),  Micheline Presle (Josephine).

Italian/French production of story of Pauline Bonaparte, sister of Emperor Napoleon I


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"Pauline Bonaparte, the favorite sister of Napoleon, Emperor of the French, was one of the most beautiful women of her time.  Simple and tender, passionate and naturally impulsive, Pauline kept a record of all important people who were rebellious and non-conformist.  But the restlessness and fickleness of Pauline only served to hide her anxious, continual desperate search for a great love, one true and eternal.  For her Emperor brother, however, her affection was stretched to the point of devotion, her obedience to the point of sacrifice and when after his disastrous campaign in Russia Napoleon's sun started to set on the bloody battlefields at Waterloo, Pauline was the only one to remain at the side of the defeated emperor and follow him into exile.  And he said:  'Pauline, you are the most beautiful, the most pure, the most faithful.'"

Marseilles, southern France.  A man gives some groceries to Pauline and then they kiss.  She tells him to dream of her and leaves.  She sneaks into her apartment and says hello to her uncle.  Mother tells her that a daughter should be able to bring her family food without having to come back in the middle of the night.  Pauline brushes her hair out and sand piles up on the floor.  A sister says she has been on the beach.  Mother now asks who has been on the beach?  She says a Bonaparte girl does not tramp around on the beaches.   The two older sisters tease each other.  Pauline would like to get engaged to the man she was with, but her mother says that first her brother will have to approve of it. 

Speaking of Napoleon, he is busy congratulating his troops on winning six battles in fifteen days.   They have conquered the richest part of Piedmont and the Republican flag is flying over Lombardy.  They have defeated the Austrians.  When the soldiers return to France, they can say that they served in the great Italian campaign. 

Napoleon comes to Marseilles to see his family.  Pauline rushes to him and they embrace and kiss on the mouth.  She then says hello to Junot, who has come with Napoleon.  Napoleon asks Pauline how did their mother take the news of his marriage to Josephine?  "Like a death in the family" says Pauline.  Napoleon says hello to the other members of his family.  He then goes to see his mother.  She is a bit stern with him.  She says Napoleon has forgotten that he has a mother.   Mother criticizes Josephine as an adventuress, a Parisian, a Creole, older than Napoleon, with two sons by another man.  She refers to her son as a simpleton for marrying her.  Napoleon defends Josephine as a woman of noble birth at whose home the most influential people in Paris meet.  And she is rich. 

He tells his relatives the various jobs he has for them.  But for Pauline he only says that she cannot marry the man.  He asks her to let him explain, but she runs away.  He tells the others with him that he will not give his sister to a man who is likely to be in prison before the week is out.   Mother tells the others that the man was a follower of Robespierre, a terrorist and France doesn't want men like him anymore. 

Napoleon tells Pauline that the Paris Tribunal has condemned him.   He knows because Josephine wrote him.  Now Pauline says she hates Josephine.  Napoleon tells her that she has always been his favorite sister, the one he is closest too.  He says he is dreaming of a great future for her, but she says she is not asking that much.  Napoleon says he wants her to come with him to Italy where she will see so many beautiful things. 

Pauline and her uncle traveled five day by carriage to be with Napoleon and his troops.   The troops go gaga over Pauline.  She goes to pay a visit to Napoleon, but only Josephine is at home.  Pauline refuses to go see her.  Her uncle says she must go in.  Pauline hesitates saying she does want to get a look at the woman, so she agrees to visit her.  Josephine greets her warmly, while Pauline is reserved.  Josephine tells her that Napoleon is at war and they are currently having a party.  She asks Pauline to get changed into fancier clothes.  The soldiers always like to see their women looking their best. 

The women get pushed on swings by the men.  Pauline has a whole passel of men wanting to push her on the swings.  A handsome officer comes by on horseback and looks at the beautiful young woman Pauline.  The men greet him.  He is Jules de Canouville.  He brings news that they took Revile.  Mantua is still holding out, which delays Napoleon.  Pauline stands up in the swing and asks if everyone has forgotten her?  Isn't anyone going to push her?  Canouville enthusiastically volunteers.  He steps on the swing facing her.  When she tells him her full name, he quickly backs up, but Pauline encourages him to step forward!  Courage!, she says.  Josephine tells Pauline that she is being talked about, but Pauline only says that she was ordered her to enjoy herself, so she is only following orders.   The two young people just keep swinging together face to face.  Canouville asks her to go out riding with him tomorrow morning. 

Pauline shows up for her lesson, but is disappointed to hear that Canouville had to pay an urgent visit to Cremona.  He has another officer to ride with her.  Pauline is not happy about this and she says that they should just forget the lesson.  Then she sees Canouville riding on his horse behind a carriage containing  Josephine on her way to Cremona.  This makes Paluline angry, so she decides to go riding with the other officer. 

At night Napoleon arrives in a carriage.  He goes into his bedroom and asks if Josephine is awake.  A man scurries out of the bedroom.  It is Pauline in Josephine's bed.  When he finds the soldier's cap he slaps Pauline and says that she is no better than a camp follower.  She says it isn't her fault because she wanted to stay in Marseilles with the man she wanted to marry.  She upsets her brother further by saying  that Josephine can be with anyone, but not Pauline.  Now Napoleon wants to know the name of the officer.  Pauline tells him to find out for himself and she gets thrown out of the bedroom. 

She hears noises of things being thrown in the bedroom.  Officer St. Claire asks Pauline what's going on.  Pauline tells him that Josephine is in Cremona with Canouville.  He tells Pauline to go back into the bedroom.  He doesn't want Napoleon left by himself.  She goes in and apologizes to her brother saying she didn't think about her words causing him a great deal of distress.  She promises that from now on she will be as good as a saint.  He goes into the bathroom and Pauline starts cleaning the place up. 

St. Claire comes in and starts helping pick up the broken dishes on the floor.  This isn't the first time this has happened, he tells Pauline.  And he always takes Josephine back.  Pauline asks St. Claire if he would ever be such a fool?  He says that if a man is married to a beautiful woman, he has to give some allowance for what that beauty entails.  This remark pleasantly surprises Pauline, who thought he was just a stern, military man. 

Canouville returns and is demoted and send to the army of the Rhine.  He swears he had nothing to do with Josephine sexually.  Canouville figures that it must have been Pauline that ratted on him to Napoleon.  So he walks over to her horse lesson and keeps giving the horse the verbal signal to speed up.  Now Pauline has some real trouble staying on the horse.  She falls off and she looks at Canouville as if she has been betrayed.  He just turns and walks away.  St. Claire comes out to help her up. 

Pauline marries St. Claire at a big wedding ceremony.    Napoleon sends St. Claire with 7,000 soldiers to Santo Domingo (the future Haiti) to restore order where there was a slave revolt.  He sends Pauline with her husband to the Antilles.  He says she flaunts her affairs and it will do her good to be far away. 

In Santo Domingo St. Claire is by a hot air balloon.  His wife arrives, being carried by a huge black man.  St. Claire is mad at the way she is dressed and for letting herself by brought in by a slave.  He also doesn't like her behavior in front of their son.  The balloon goes up into the air. 

A soldier in the crowd steps forward with something black coming out of his mouth.  He drops over dead.  A man looks at him and shouts:  "The fever!"  There are a lot of screams and everyone leaves the area because of the fear of yellow fever.  The general insists that Pauline accompany him for a visit to the hospital.  Pauline is afraid and doesn't want to go, but her husband insists.  The doctor there says they are losing over 100 men a day. 

A sick man asks her for some water and she gets it for him.  St. Claire is surprised.  And now she sees the man she was once hoping to marry in one of the hospital beds. She is very shocked.  Her husband tells her he knew he was here, but he promised the man to say nothing to Pauline.  He is ashamed he is in his current situation. 

Pauline leads the women in dancing, while the sound of nearby cannon fire roars through the building.   Some of the women feel faint and Pauline tells them to take hold of themselves.  They are there to be seen.  One of the few men there tells Pauline the cannon fire is coming from Fort Dauphin.  A messenger arrives to say that all ladies are to embark for Turtle Island.  He tells Pauline that their forces are drawing back.  Pauline goes to where the soldiers are withdrawing looking for her husband.  She finds her husband at the fort.  The general tells her:  "This filthy war!  First, they massacre Gen. Tolavey's family  and now I massacre them."  The French have lost 20,000 men and for what?  The colony is already lost and he believes that he is to blame.  He asks Pauline if she has gone to bed with two men, but then he says it doesn't matter.  She says she is beginning to love St. Claire. 

St. Claire is very sick with yellow fever.  He says his wife should have loved him before this.  Now it doesn't matter.  At night Pauline cuts her hair short.  Her husband has died. 

Napoleon writes his sister saying that now she is Princess Borghese of the Roman aristocracy.  He tells her to love her new husband and don't be capricious. 

The Prince and Princess meet with the pope.  They kneel before him and kiss his right hand. 

Pauline has a bust made of herself.  After six weeks of work, the sculptor says it's still no good.  So Pauline takes off her crown and upper garment.  She asks the sculptor if he likes her this way?  He has renewed enthusiasm and says:  "Now we work!"  One of the staff takes money from four soldiers to see the secluded away, naked sculpture of Pauline.  Canouville is one of the soldiers.  One of the soldiers asks if Canouville recognizes Pauline?  He says he never forgets a face. 

Napoleon writes his sister saying he is disappointed that she never accustomed herself to Rome, but kept her eyes on Paris.  He says he will never receive her in Paris without her husband.  Pauline, however, is thinking of her deceased son.  She says she should have done more for him.  Pauline tells her current husband that she wants to bury her son's remains with those of his father at her estate in France.  The Prince says the road to her estate goes through Paris.  He reminds Pauline that Napoleon does not want her in Paris.  The Prince finally agrees to let her go on the trip.  He, however, will stay in Rome.  He says Paris bores him.  Pauline gets angry and says that Rome really bores her.  She says she goes to church just to have something to do.  She asks her husband to come with her to France for a week or a month. 

Canouville is in a Paris shoe store.  He sees Pauline looking into the window.  Then she quickly proceeds down the street to go into a hotel.  Canouville follows her to the other place.  She has set herself up in a room under the name of Mademoiselle Hortense and is expecting a gentleman.  Canouville comes in instead.  She asks him who is he?  He says he is Canouville, but she says she doesn't know him.  She then insults him with half a dozen negative descriptive terms and he apologizes and leaves.  She runs after him only to find him standing in the hall.  Pauline says she supposes now he will tell everyone, but he says no. 

The correct gentleman shows up, but the proprietress of the place says something unexpected came up and Mademoiselle Hortense could not come.  The man is very disappointed saying that he has to go back to Cologne.  The proprietress wishes him a pleasant journey. 

Canouville comes back in the room with her and kisses her.  They kiss again and again. 

Pauline finally arrives back home.  She is so happy.  Those waiting for her go into her room. 

Pauline teaches her brother the Viennese waltz as part of his marriage to a Viennese princess.  She is the daughter of the Austrian Emperor.  He warns his sister that the rules of the Austrian court are very strict.  He doesn't want her to fool around with any of the Austrian soldiers.  Napoleon doesn't want any scandals.  He asks her if she will ever settle down and stop all this?  He wants her to go back to her husband.  If she continues like this, she will end up all alone.  Pauline says to her brother:  "As soon as I love a man, you hate him." 

Napoleon enters with his new wife.  Pauline is one of the women who carry the train of the Emperor's wife.  Napoleon spots Canouville who is one of the guards and he is angry.  He tells a general that he wants Canouville sent away this very evening to Spain.  And off goes courier Canouville in the morning. 

The Prince pays a visit to his wife.  He says he sees that she is in good health and is happy.  Now he can go back to Italy reassured.  His mother is not well and he has new responsibilities.  Napoleon has made him a Governor-General.   Pauline wants to divorce him, but her husband says that is out of the question for a Borghese.  Napoleon would not allow it either. 

Canouville arrives in Spain and reports in.  He made the 800 km trip in just four days.  He rode so fast because he wants to get back to Paris and Pauline.  The officer asks if Pauline is really still that pretty.  Canouville indicates that she is.  The officer says he is making it worse for himself because Napoleon does not approve.  Canouville sets out on his return trip.  He arrives all sweaty and dirty and falls off his horse and promptly goes to sleep.  He is put in a bed in one of the bedrooms and Pauline tries to awaken him.  She can't.  He has slept for 24 hours straight. 

They decide to give him a hot bath.  In the bath he opens one eye.  He keeps his eyes shut while Pauline feeds him.  He says goodnight and goes back to sleep.  When he awakens Pauline is asleep in a chair.  He opens the window and Pauline tells him to shut the window because cold and she's sleeping.  She kisses him, but says now let her sleep.  He starts kissing her leg and then her arms.  And he bites her lightly.   This at least gets her up.  She jumps in her own bed.  He keeps kissing her and asking if she is still angry. 

Pauline says Napoleon is going to be angry, because he is jealous.  Canouville says he rode so fast that they still have some extra time.  They kiss some more.  Pauline wants to get away from her brother.  She knows of a little spa that no one knows about.  There is nothing to do there but drink mineral water.  Their carriage proceeds on its way but they are followed by Napoleon's spies.  They stop the carriage and tell Canouville that he is to report to Marshal Bertier for discipline. 

Pauline goes to see her brother and is kept waiting.  She falls to sleep on a sofa.  Very late, she finally gets to see her brother.  She curtsies before him.  He complains about his whole family.  He has given them great positions and wealth and all they do is squander it.  And they never thank him.  Pauline says that she loves her brother and he says that he loves her.  She begs him not to arrest Col. Canouville.  Napoleon asks how dare she ask him to spare her lover.  She says he only did it because he loves her and she loves him.  And she wants to marry him and be happy.  Napoleon says if she want Canouville, she can have him.  But be sure to tell Canouville that today they are at war with Russia and within a week he will be moving out with the army.  See if he still wants to hide with her, while war goes on.  If so, then they can hide away for ever and enjoy themselves.  He leaves.  Pauline leaves while crying. 

Canouville gets ready to leave for the war.  Pauline cries and hugs him.  Before he gets on his horse to leave, she gives him a locket with her picture in it. 

Napoleon and his staff ride through a battlefield after the battle.  He recognizes Canouville's horse because its blanket is a fiu from Russia that he gave to his sister.  One of his staff goes to check and finds Canouville dead.  He takes the locket from around his neck.  Napoleon tells his officer to make sure Pauline gets the locket back.  And Canouville is to be buried with honors. 

Napoleon returns to Paris.  The people in the streets are angry at him.  Some throw stones at him.  Pauline listens to the latest news.  She has her locket around her neck.  He stops to see Pauline.  She receives him in fine style.  Napoleon has to come to her bedroom because of her weakened condition.  He hugs and kisses his sister.  She notices that he is wearing a white Austrian uniform.  Napoleon says it protects him from the mob. 

He says he's sorry to see her in such poor health.  She closes the shutters to keep the noise out from the mob in the street.  An English frigate is taking him to the island of Elba as a prisoner.  She offers him her jewelry.  He says he can't take them., but she insists.  Pauline tells him she will get well and she will come and stay with him on Elba.  He tells Pauline that he needs her.  She is his only one true friend.  And Pauline says she has only him.  She promises him that she will never love anyone else, never! 

Napoleon has to leave. 

Napoleon writes:  "Goodbye Pauline, goodbye.  While the rest of my family was resigned to my fate, you alone refused to accept it.  You lived my agony and will die my death.  You were the most beautiful of all women, the most frivolous, the lightest and the most faithful."


The quality of the film I watched on DVD was poor, especially with the long shots.  You couldn't make out any of the faces in the long shots.  Gina Lollabrigida is a beautiful presence in the film, but she would look better if the film quality was better.  I thought she did a good job as Pauline.  All through the movie I kept thinking about an incestuous theme.  Napoleon was a bit like a jealous lover with his sister.  If she loved a man, he would be against the marriage.  When he could arrange a marriage, it always had a rocky start.  And she was miserable in her second and last marriage.  Pauline also seemed to be a bit incestuous herself, kissing her brother on the lips and always buoying him up with excessive love and flattery.  She was always faithful to Napoleon even if she wasn't so faithful with her two husbands.  Anyway, it was a weird relationship between the brother and sister.  Pauline had some adventures of her own, especially down there in the future Haiti where a slave revolt had taken place.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1492 (December 5)  --  Columbus discovers the future Haiti/Dominican Republic and names it La Isla Española (later Hispaniola Island).  The first settlement failed.  He leaves his brother Bartolomeo to start another settlement. 

1606  --  because of the fear of pirate attacks, the king of Spain orders all colonists to move closer to the capital city, Santo Domingo.

1664  -- the French claim the western part of Hispaniola Island (the future Haiti). 

1697  --  in the Treaty of Ryswick, Spain officially cedes the western third of Hispaniola to France.  Landowners start growing crops and importing black slaves.

1751  --  a one-armed slave named Mackandal escaped, fleeing into the mountains.  He united many different maroon bands. He and his men would raid various plantations.  Reputedly, they killed over 6,000 people.

1758  --  Mackandal is  captured and burned alive at the public square in Cap-Français.

1789  --  500,000 blacks are ruled by a white population of only 32,000.

1789  -- the start of the French Revolution.  It has a big effect on the colony.

1790  -- civil war begins when free men of color claim they too are French citizens under the terms of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. 

1790 (March)  --  the French National Assembly grants full civic rights to the free men of color.

1790  --  Vincent Ogé attempts to incite the free men of color.  He along with Jean-Baptiste Chavennes tryto attack Cap-Français, but their forces are defeated by the white militia and some black volunteers. 

1791 (February)  --  Ogé and Chavennes are executed.

1791 (August 22)  --  slave revolt in the north that begins the Haitian Revolution.  Its leaders is a Vodoo priest named Dutty Boukman.  He is captured and executed, but  the rebellion continuesto spread.

1793 (September and October)  --  emancipation extended throughout the colony.

1794 (May)  --  France finally ratifies emancipation and the rebel leader Toussaint Louverture comes over to the French Republican side.

1796  --  French leader Sonthonax is  recalled.  (Before leaving, he arms the slaves.)

1797-1798  --  Louverture drives the invading British back and by 1798 is the defacto ruler of the colony.

1801  -- Louverture is in control of the entire colony. 

1802  --  Napoleon sends a massive invasion force under his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc.  Leclerc came to have a force of  40,000 European troops.  He also receives support from the white colonists and mulatto forces. The French start winning battles and two of Toussaint's chief lieutenants, Dessalines and Christophe, change sides.  Leclerc then invites Toussaint to negotiate a settlement, but it was all a ruse.  Toussaint is seized and deported to France.

1803 (April)  --  Toussaint dies of pneumonia while imprisoned at Fort de Joux in the Jura Mountains.


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