Nuit de Varennes (1982)




Director:  Ettore Scola

Starring:  Jean-Louis Barrault (Nicolas Edm Restif de la Bretonne),  Marcello Mastroianni (Casanova, Chevalier de Seingalt),  Hanna Schygulla (Countess Sophie de la Borde), Harvey Keitel (Thomas Paine), Jean-Claude Brialy (Monsieur Jacob),  Andra Ferrol (Mme AdlaVde Gagnon),  Michel Vitold (De Florange), Laura Betti (Virginia Capacelli), Enzo Jannacci (Le bateleur italien), Pierre Malet (Emile Delage, l'tudiant rvolutionnaire), Daniel Glin (De Wendel),  Hugues Quester (Jean-Louis Romeuf),  Dora Doll (Nanette Precy), Caterina Boratto (Mme Faustine),  Didi Perego (Mme Sauce).

French film about stagecoach passengers who get caught up in the arrest of King Louis XVI in the town of Varennes.




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

Some street performers ask the people walking by to see the recreation of the recent history in France.  People look into a magic box where there are three paintings of miniature scenes set at different lengths from the  viewer's eye.   One of the scenes is of King Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette.  Then there is a scene from the 1789 storming of the Bastille. 

Some men are going over the business records dealing with the sales of a certain book.  The men say that this is how Citizen Restif got his money.  He sold books to extremely famous people including the King and Queen of France.  With the money from the book sales he paid his wife's alimony and his legal costs.  The daughter tells the two men that her father did not earn his money from selling books.  She draws back a curtain to show the men the hundreds of unsold books in a back room.  The men look over one of the books entitled "My Calendar".  The daughter tells them that each day of the year was dedicated to one, two or three women who her father had loved. 

The Feb 8 page talks about Sister Pinon, of the Grey Order of Bicetre.  A drawing in the book shows the father as a boy hiding his head between the sister's thighs.  She told him to make the best of it and they both came. 

April 27.  Nanette Precy.  He has his first woman in a stable when he was 9 years old. 

May 10.  Dad met Bathilde Boujard in a bordello and they made love.  It was only later that he learned that the woman was his own daughter. 

The daughter says that her name is Agnes, not Bathilde, and she has lots of sisters.  She then tells the men that her father has 1,230 books in the room. 

One of the books in her father's collection is that of the French edition of Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man."  He has the job to print the book.  One of the men says he will confiscate the Thomas Paine book because:  "Any source of profit may be impounded until a debt is repaid."  Agnes asks him:  "How can he pay if you impound his sources of profit?"  The man replies:  "Anyway when you've had 400 women, paying alimony only to one is a bargain!" 

Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne comes walking down the street.  A woman calls down to him and he responds with:  "My lovely Faustine.  A pleasure!"  She tells him to come on up, but Restif says it's too late at night now.  The madam, however, sweet talks him to coming up to the bordello.  (brief nudity)  She shows Restif a young woman and his breath is taken away.  He definitely wants to have sex with her.  (brief nudity)

Outside a gypsy man says to some non-gypsy men:  "If La Fayette stayed, instead of fleeing abroad . . . it means he's for the king."  Restif overhears the conversation. 

A guard chases Restif away from a palace.  He walks down to another entrance and a guard rushes up to him and puts a latge parcel in his hands.  He then says that he will give the other parcel to Restif''s servant.  The guard goes back for the other parcel.  Meanwhile a woman comes through the gates with a black servant woman trailing behind her.  Restif follows after the two women.  Meanwhile a man and his servant arrive and pick up the second parcel.  The woman in front reaches a coach and turns around and sees Restif.  She asks him who is he?  He says he's a stranger who couldn't resist helping out a lovely lady.  The man and his servant now arrive with the second parcel.  The parcels are placed in the coach.  The two women and a man enter the coach and the servant gets into the driver's seat to drive the coach. Restif is left behind. 

Restif scolds Agnes for letting some men of the law find the Thomas Paine book, which he says he was hiding.  He says it was his only profitable printing job he's had.  He then starts kissing his daughter's left breast.  (brief nudity)  Paine came to their home about three hours ago.  He is going off to Metz for several weeks.  He did leave a little bit of money but that is for her, says Agnes.  He kisses Agnes and then leaves the house. 

A large stage coach arrives and two men come out of it.  One of the men is Thomas Paine.  The fellow with him is de Wendel.  Restif is sleeping on a bench.  Paine wakes him up.  Restif tells him that the copy of his book was confiscated from his house.  Paine gives him a little money and tells him they will deal with this after his return from Metz.  He then introduces Restif to Mr. de Wendel. 

Now arriving to catch the huge stage coach is none other then the three people who left Restif standing on the road as they drove off in their carriage.  Two of the three get into the coach, but the black servant has to travel on top of the stage.  Paine and de Wendel also get on the coach.  Restif sees a servant bring the two large parcels from last night to put on top of the stage coach.  He decides to buy a ticket and travel on the stage coach.

Sitting up top with the black servant, Marie Madeleine, is a young male student who introduces himself to her as Emile Delage.  The stage coach leaves before Restif gets back.  Restif now asks the ticket agent to get him a horse so he can catch up with the stage coach. 

Inside the stage coach de Wendel says Restif didn't look  like what he thought he would look like.   Paine assures him that Restif is a first-rate author.  Another fellow says he's heard that Restif's books are filled with scurrilous material.  Some of the travelers like Restif's books, while others regard them as so much garbage.  The gentleman who said Restif write scurrilous material says he heard that Restif wrote a book predicting a revolution and it came to pass.  He says the intellectuals undermined the King and Queen with their criticisms of the French aristocratic system. 

Restif has troubles with the horse he is riding, but he is catching up gradually to the stage coach.  A small carriage catches up with Restilf.  Restif lets  the carriage pass by going up on high ground, but when he starts down again after the coach has passed him, he falls off the horse.  The man in the carriage has the driver stop.  He goes over to help Restif up.  Restif asks if he can ride in the carriage and at first the nobleman is reluctant.  But when Restif introduces himself, the nobleman immediately knows who he is and spouts off many titles of the books written by Restif.  Restif is pleased and asks the nobleman his name.  It's Chevalier de Seingalt. 

On the ride Restif tells the Chevalier all about his little adventure from the previous evening and this morning.  Chevalier is a little shocked.  He asks:  "Louis Capet has left Paris?"  Yes, but to where is he going?  The Chevalier says the man is such a coward.  He also says he has known Louis from when he was a child.  The nobleman suddenly falls asleep. 

Restif notices that they have almost caught up to the stage coach.  He awakens the Chevalier, who then tells his driver to get the horses moving and pass the stage coach.  The men on the stage coach say they are not allowed to pass them, and the stage driver speeds his horses up.   Louis Capet starts getting very scared.  The passengers on the stage coach start bouncing all around the cabin.

The carriage passes the stage coach.  When the carriage arrives at the next stop Restif asks the blacksmith if a big stage coach passed through here?  The man won't say anything until Restif offers him some money.  The fellow now says that he heard the stage coach is carrying a Russian noblewoman back home.  He figures the coach must have left at midnight.  He also says there is a little girl on the stage coach too. 

And now the stage coach arrives at the stop.  Restif calls Paine over to him and tells him that someone left Paris last night in secret.  Paine says it probably was the King.  Restif is astounded that Paine knows this, but Paine tells him he heard this from Lafayette this morning.  He now asks what's Restif doing here?  Restif says:  "Observing." 

The Chevalier cleans himself up a bit in the restroom.  Paine says they are in Meaux now and he figures that the King has probably reached Montmirail already.  He is sure the King is headed to Metz at the eastern border where he will get the protection of troops from Alsatia, Lorraine and Champagne, composed of mostly Swiss and German mercenaries.  Or the King could make a detour at Montmedy, which is only a mile from the border with Luxembourg where they will get protection from the King's brother-in-law's troops of some 14,000 Austrians.  Paine agrees that if the King gets out of France the result will be a civil war. 

Countess Sophie de la Borde from last night tells her servant to take off her veil.  She starts walking with her servant and runs into the Chevalier.  For several seconds the two people look at each other, then the Chavalier continues walking. 

The Chevalier gets in his coach and starts leaving Meaux.  Countess Sophie says she recognized the Chevalier, better known as Giacomo Casanova.  The stage coach is ready to roll.  Paine insists that Restif travel inside the coach and not on top.  He himself will ride up front with the driver. 

An aside.  Casanova explains that at this time he was not well known in France.  He would only become known later with the success of his "Memoirs" written in French and published after his death in 1798. 

The stage coach pulls out from Meaux.  The talk inside the cabin is of Casanova.  The farm workers in the fields see the student and the black servant kissing on top of the coach.  They all start pointing to the coach and whistling and laughing.

Casanova's carriage has met with an accident.  The stage coach stops to help.  Countess Sophie invites Casanova to ride inside the cabin.  Cassanova accepts the invitation.  The Countess tells Louis to stay with Casanova's carriage and he can catch up to the stage coach later.  The stage coach leaves Louis behind all by himself.  And once again the conversation in the cabin revolves around Casanova.  The women talk about making love to Casanova while in the coach.  Casanova says this talk does not not amuse him. In love-making there must be an element of mystery.  Mme AdlaVde Gagnon is very taken with the charms of Casanova.

The men upfront talk about the topic of the American Revolution compared to the French Revolution. 

The stage coach stops at a steep incline and the passengers get off.  They will walk up the incline.  They stopped very close to a place where men are busy at making charcoal. The workers figure that the stage driver will have to ask them for some assistance. 

Walking uphill Casanova says he does not approve of the French Revolution because matters have turned so much to the worse that it's absolutely  frightening.  The young student does not like what Cassanova is saying and tells him so.  Casanova says the lad just proved his earlier point:  that the workers and others have become so rude in the liberated France.  Paine tells the student that forbidding a man to speak is the first step to tyranny. 

Near the top of the hill the men have to help push the wagon to the top.  The Countess notices an empty bottle of wine and goes over to check on it.  Casanova comes over to say that that bottle came from the royal cellars.

Everyone gets back on board the coach.

A French soldier reads from a message:  "Enemies of the Revolution have kidnapped the King.  Loyal citizens must wrest him from them and return him to the Assembly.  Signed:  La Fayette."  The officer, Commander Bayon, also says that the six-horse, green coach carrying the King and his family must be stopped.  He sends citizen Gabriel Vallet with the order to all the towns from here to the border. 

The people on the stage coach witness this and the Countess shouts out that:  "You can't arrest the King!"  Now the people come in to be fed.  Paine tells the Countess that the worst of all governments are those based on the aristocracy and monarchy.  Restif asks the Commander when did they realize that the King had fled?  7 a.m.  What time did the Commander leave?  8 a.m.  Restif now asks how did the Commander decide that the King was headed for Metz to meet up with de Bouille's troops at the border? 

Paine says that France has 4,000 privileged families who despise each other.  The Countess gets tired of listening to him and gets up from her table.   The student comes over and insults the King and the great "whore".  This causes a tussle between the aristocrat on the stage coach and the student. 

And Louis Capet finally arrives.  He tells Casanova that everything is taken care of and Casanova thanks him.  Paine keeps an eye on the Countess.  When she is accosted by a beggar, Paine comes to her rescue.  He kicks the bum out of the place and then tries to console the Countess.  She tells him that Paine hurt her more with his wretched comments than that beggar did.  Casanova asks Mme AdlaVde Gagnon to say goodbye to the others for him.  She grabs him and says:  "I haven't been consoled.  My life is a wasteland."  She makes him to make her life complete.  He tells her that at his age of 66 he has developed other wisdom.  Casanova says he will be the one to regret his decision, but he declines.  He says that Mme AdlaVde Gagnon is not in love with Casanova, but with his reputation.  "Today, those things are gone."

Restif says goodbye to Casanova.  As he walks out, the Commander almost demands that Casanova give him a ride in his carriage.  Casanova consents.  Louis runs after Casanova and the two men kiss.  After Casanova and the Commander leave, an aide to Lafayette rides up and asks the proprietor if a Captain of the National Guard come through from Paris?  The aide says he must get a fresh horse. 

The Countess approach the aide, de Romeuf, and asks how many officers are out chasing the King?  De Romeuf says nothing in reply but he joins the others getting on the stage coach.  In the cabin the talk is of the King and his potential escape. 

Flashback.  June 21, 1786.  Inauguration of the Naval port at Cherbourg.  The last conical tower has been set up to mark off the harbor.  The Countess says she was there and the people showered the King with their love.  If Restif could have been there, he too would have been impressed by the King. 

Back to the present.  The stage coach reaches another coach stop.  Louis Capet tells the Countess that something is wrong.  Instead of the King's coach having past through here five hours ago, it was only two hours ago that they passed through.  The Duke of Choiseul and his 40 hussars left only 15 minutes before their carriage arrived.  The Countess asks what happened?  Louis goes to ask around.   

In fact, it seems that everyone is talking about the King and his escape attempt.  A soldier tells Restif, Paine and others that they were ordered to escort a treasure coming from Paris to Metz.  The treasure came through at 5.  Then at 6 a cabriolet appeared.  A fellow named Leonard was on the cabriolet and he said that Choiseul had given him a note for Capt.. d'Andoins.  The note said that the treasure would not be coming through today.  Then at 7:45 another carriage, the biggest he ever saw, appeared along with a cabriolet.  The captain came over and said: "Things have gone awry.  Hurry or you're lost."  

Drouet the local postmaster saw the huge carriage.   And now he is claiming that he recognized both the King and the Queen.  He says he at one time met them, as if he hobnobbed with the King!  The men laugh over this. 

Then Captain Bayon arrived with orders from Paris. He and his men were disarmed and the Captain was jailed.  Next, the Mayor ordered Drouet to go after the carriage.  Drouet left Verdun about the same time as Guillaume. 

Louis reports all this to the Countess and she says that means that Baron de Goguelat's plan did not work. 

Mme AdlaVde Gagnon searches for Casanova in the restaurant.  She sees him with the woman who owns the restaurant eating his meal.  AdlaVde has a tear flowing from her left eye.  Mme AdlaVde Gagnon now leaves in a carriage. The owner is also a madam and she knows Restif.  In fact, she tells Restif that he married "our" Zephire (the daughter of the madam and Casanova).  Restif is a son-in-law to Casanova.  So now the trio are very happy and want to celebrate.  Casanova tells Louis Capet to tell the stage coach people to continue their journey, because Restif will ride with him.  Restif tells Louis that he will catch up to the stage coach later. 

In the carriage Restif tells Casanova that his wife died of pneumonia only one year into their marriage.  Casanova then confesses that Zephire wasn't his daughter.  And he has no recollection of this Madame Nanette.  He never met her before tonight.  And now Restif says he doesn't know if Zephire was really the daughter of Madame Nanette.  The two men have a great laugh together.  The carriage arrives at the next stage coach stop. 

The two men go into the restaurant, while Casanova says that for the past six years he has served as Count Waldstein's librarian.  In fact, he is somewhat of a court jester there.  He said he got away from the place to escape the scorn and jeers of the other servants.  He's now been applying for a serious job. 

A Dr. Mangin arrives at the restaurant.  Someone welcomes him to the restaurant.  Mangin says he is headed to Paris with a message from Varennes to the Assembly.  He blurts out:  "The King and Queen have been arrested!"   They are now in the home of Mr. Sauce, the deputy-mayor of Varennes.  Some patriots, who were alerted by Drouet, arrested them when they came to town.  Restif asks and finds out that Varennes is about six leagues from here, toward Montmedy. 

Casanova is saddened by the news and goes outside.  Referring to the common people marching with torches and singing, Casanova says:  "It's a whole new show, the audience takes to the stage."  He tells Restif that he supposes that the writer will head for Varennes.  Yes.  He said he is personally headed to Verdun. 

The agents of Waldstein now catch up with Casanova.  Waldstein wants Casanova back with him.  Casanova and his two guards get in a coach and leave. 

The stage coach with the Countess and the others arrive at the coach stop.  The Captain tells the coach driver to head for Varennes.  The driver protests that they are headed for Metz.  The Captain replies:  "And we're due in Varennes!"  The passengers have to arrange to take another carriage to Metz.  The opera singer tells her aristocratic lover to go back to his wife in Paris. 

The Countess sits at a table.  Her black servant comes over to tells her that her student Emile wants her to escort him to his nearby village.  Emile says she doesn't have to have the permission of the Countess.  She can decide for herself.  So the black servant goes with Emile. 

The stage coach now carries the Countess, Paine and some of the others to Varennes.  The Countess tells Paine that she just feels so afraid now of so many things.  She says her father was a brewer.  She then asks for Paine to forgive her.  Paine says the Countess has the ability to remove herself from her fears.  He says faith and ideals protect us all from fear, but the faith and ideals must be suited for the Countess.  Louis Capet says that he too is afraid of change and what will happen to him in the future without the King. 

At the city gate the stage coach passengers get out and follow the people with torches into the public square.  They keep walking forward until they can hear the men who captured the King and Queen talking about how they did it.  One of the ladies-in-waiting is ill and a maid is sent to get the doctor.  The Captain and two of his men come in.  They meet the deputy-mayor and Drouet.  Drouet is extremely demanding that the King and Queen be brought to justice.  He insists that the King and Queen be carried back to Paris right now!  The people start chanting:  "To Paris!" 

The deputy-mayor takes the soldiers up to see the King.  Paine, Restif and the Countess go along with the soldiers. 

While walking up the steps, the Countess meets  Baron de Goguelat coming down the steps.  She asks the Baron what happed to him?  He says he was wounded.  But the Countess wants to know what happened to the Baron's infallible plan to escort the King?   The Baron answers:  counter-orders, delays, mutinous hussars and the meddling of the Queen's hairdresser.  She asks him if he has another fool-proof plan?  He says that they must delay the departure of the King until the Marquis de Bouille gets here from Montmedy. 

The soldiers reach the King before the others can get up the stairs.  The King reads the message from the Assembly and the ex-King now says France no longer has a King.  The Countess can see only the legs of the speakers, but she clearly can hear them.  She starts crying and wants to be taken from this place.  The Countess and the others with her file out of the building.  People start touching the Countess.  She gets very afraid and screams.  She is taken into a pool hall and then up the stairs along with Paine and Restif. 

Outside Emile on top of a stage coach reads out a statement to the crowd that says that it's time for the heads of Bailly and La Fayette to roll.  The people start chanting:  "To Paris!"

The Countess thanks Restif and Paine for being with her to make the journey a bit more pleasant.  Restif asks the Countess to please tell him what is inside the two parcels, one of which he carried for her.  So Louis opens one of the bundles.  The Countess says it's the costume His Majesty wore at the inauguration of Cherbourg.  Tomorrow is Corpus Christi and he was supposed to wear the costume to review his troops at Montmedy.  Tears flow down her cheeks.  She leaves the room.  Louis puts the clothes on a clothes dummy.  The Countess sees the dummy and comes closer to admire it. 

The King and Queen are transported to Paris on the stage coach used by Restif and the others.

Back in Paris at the demonstration of the magic box, Restif is in the audience listening to the barker advertise the magic box. 

In 1792 Restif wrote:  "All those ideas exhausted me.  For relief I plunged into the centuries that followed.  I saw the people of 1992 reading our history.  I strained to hear them and I heard. The harshness of their judgment terrified me.  Some claimed we lacked humanity, whereas those with extreme views, as in my day, approved.  All Europe, apparently, had a new government, united and at peace.  But I saw in the pages of history the terrible jolts it had endured. . . ."


A French author decides to follow a Countess and her aide to see what they are up to.  He gets on the same stage coach as they.  He senses that a big mystery and adventure await him that he can then write about in his books.  And Restif does meet some interesting people, namely the American Revolutionary author Thomas Paine and the infamous Casanova known for his sexual exploits.  The people on the stage coach just talk and talk and talk.  Some of the conversations are interesting, but most are not.  What really makes the trip special, however, is that the coach everyone was riding in becomes the coach used to take the escaping king and queen back to Paris.  The passengers were able to see history in the making.  Many on the coach had said that if the king had gotten away, there would have been civil war in France. 

The stage coach riders had a whole gamut of opinions on the issues of the day.   And this made for some predictable arguments between the riders. 

The film is almost 2 hours long.  And that's a lot of time to fill when the characters are not really doing much of anything except talking.  So it was at times tedious, but not horribly, horribly so.

The actors were from the USA, but mostly from Europe.  There were some well-know actors in the film too. 

The film was probably influenced by John Ford's famous 1939 film Stagecoach starring John Wayne.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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