Patricia Mazuy’s absorbing historical drama is about an ambitious courtesan who became King Louis XIV’s wife and founded a boarding school for girls in the late 17th century. Madame de Maintenon (Isabelle Huppert) has climbed up the social ladder the hard way and determines to put sin behind her and devote herself to educating the daughters of France’s impoverished noblemen. She opens Saint-Cyr, a boarding school that will be run on proto-feminist lines, raising the girls to become feisty, free-thinking women without the inhibitions of a traditional convent education. The experiment begins to go awry when the girls develop a taste for the power Madame de Maintenon herself has employed so successfully in the past. Panicking, Maintenon turns to religion and imposes a Draconian, hysterically God-fearing regime, with tragic consequences. Huppert is excellent as a woman who slides from worldly poise and absolute certainty about her mission to increasingly fearful behaviour and flirtations with madness.

France, 2000.
English subtitles.
Dolby digital stereo.
119 min.

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