Built on a bend of the river Marne in the early 18th century, the Château de Champs-sur-Marne is the archetypal leisure mansion. Owned in turn by the Princess of Conti, the Duke of La Vallière and the Marquise de Pompadour, the Château de Champs played host to some famous guests, including Diderot, d’Alembert and even Voltaire.
In the 19th century, Louis Cahen of Antwerp restored it to the splendour it possessed before the Revolution; he restored the Château in the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment and filled it with exceptional furniture crafted by the leading names in French cabinet-making. His guests included Marcel Proust, Isadora Duncan and the King of Spain Alfonso XIII… The Estate became the property of the State in 1935, then the presidential residence from 1959 to 1974 and welcomed France’s most prestigious guests.
Champs and the cinema
The Château de Champs-sur-Marne boasts some exceptional pieces of furniture and interior decoration reflecting its illustrious past. The grounds, awarded the ‘Remarkable gardens of France’ label, are in a leafy setting of 85 hectares of parkland, where the French-style garden ornaments cohabit harmoniously with the meadows and mature trees of an English-style park.
This remarkable setting has been the inspiration for set designers and film directors for many years. The estate has thus provided the set for more than 80 long and short feature films, and has played host to some famous French and international actors, such as John Malkovich and Glenn Close in ‘Liaisons Dangereuses’ by Stephen Frears (1986), Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie-Antoinette’ (2006), or Gérard Depardieu in Roland Joffé’s ‘Vatel’ (1999)…
In recent years, Depardieu has become a bit loose-lipped; a fact that is probably in no way related to his ready admission of drinking 14 bottles of wine every single day. In his autobiography That’s The Way It Was, Depardieu describes a difficult childhood growing up in a dirt-poor region of central France. At least part of that difficulty comes from the fact that he was lucky to grow up at all, because when she discovered she was pregnant, Gerard’s mother tried to abort him with a knitting needle. “And to think I almost killed you,” she later told him, presumably with a cross-stitched embroidery she hung on his bedroom door.
As an understandably troubled teen, Depardieu prostituted himself to taxi drivers to make money. “I’ve known since I was very young that I please homosexuals,” he said. Before long, however, he figured out that he could make way more money by simply beating the shit out of them and robbing them. And from there, of course, it was a natural progression to grave robbing, because Depardieu is apparently a time traveler from the 19th century. He and an unnamed associate (we’re assuming Victor Frankenstein) spent their nights digging up the recently deceased and hawking the clothing and jewelry they recovered for cash.
Gwynplaine has a permanent smile carved on his face and is adopted by a travelling showman, Ursus. He falls in love with a young blind girl, Dea, and becomes very popular showing people his permanent smile. Everything changes when Gwynplaine finds out he’s the son of a lord.
Armelle (Deneuve) is trapped in a loveless marriage with Marc (Depardieu). Every time she tries to get out, he or his family find some way to manipulate her back into it. In an attempt to escape her life, Armelle frequently leaves their apartment to get lost in the crowds around and on the Eiffel Tower. It’s there that she meets Anne (Ardant), a charming Paris-born curator who finds herself in a similar predicament.
The two women meet each other a few more times before they come up with a dangerous, but possibly successful plan. Anne will murder Marc and Armelle will murder Miriam (Streep), Anne’s lover and a Paris-based American fashion designer. When Armelle realizes just how high-profile her victim is, she has her doubts, but her desperation to get away from Marc makes her decision for her and she approaches Miriam.
But the American appears to be well-aware of their scheme and seduces Armelle instead, leading her into her bed and away from her murderous thoughts, by showing her that killing isn’t a solution. Their affair awakens feelings in Armelle that she thought long dead, but before she can start to figure out what it all means, her husband is found naked and murdered in her marital bed and his killer wants her payment. Suddenly the prime suspect in her husband death, Armelle must stay out of prison, out of Anne’s grasp and away from Miriam, but the latter proves to be nearly impossible. Will she risk her life for a woman she barely knows?