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'Triumph of Love'

Mira Sorvino is driven with deception in 'Triumph of Love'

Friday, May 10, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Seductive nature

'Triumph Of Love'

RATING: PG-13 for some nudity and sensuality.

STARRING: Mira Sorvino, Ben Kingsley, Fiona Shaw.

DIRECTOR: Clare Peploe.



In a different age, what Mira Sorvino's character does in "Triumph of Love" would be called a few other things: breach of promise, triumph of deceit, love 'em and leave 'em.

Or we can peg the movie, now at the Destinta Bridgeville and Squirrel Hill theaters, for what it really is, a four-door romantic farce replete with mistaken identities.

Screenwriter and director Clare Peploe has adapted Pierre Marivaux's 18th-century French play about a princess who falls for the man who would be king if her parents hadn't usurped the throne from his family.

She wants to make amends, especially after gazing on him surreptitiously after he has gone skinny-dipping. But he has grown to think of her as his enemy, and his guardians -- a rationalist philosopher and his scientist sister -- have taught him to regard the idea of romance as so much nonsense.

Thus, the princess (Sorvino) and her servant (Rachael Stirling) disguise themselves as young men in hopes of infiltrating the philosopher's estate and softening them up to the idea of love.

Oh, what a tangled web results. The princess ends up having to attempt to seduce not just her handsome young man, Agis (Jay Rodan) but also the philosopher, Hemocrates (Ben Kingsley), and his sister, Leontine (Fiona Shaw).

This requires her to slip constantly from one guise to the next, to think on her feet, improvise with each new development and make her cunning come-ons sound utterly convincing.

In other words, she has to put on a performance for each member of her select audience. Peploe tries to emphasize this aspect, not just as a commentary on the nature of seduction (or, for that matter, of acting) but also with the knowledge that there is, of course, another audience out there watching.

And while we recognize the art of sweet talk when we see it, we may have a harder time accepting the reality of such blatantly theatrical characters: women cross-dressing in a style that looks feminine to our eyes; a berobed thinker pursuing his truth in the regal isolation of a pavilion on the grounds of his estate; a flustered, frustrated female of a certain age who acts like a deer in the headlights when pressed by a persistent stranger; a ripe young man so happy to have a companion that he can't tell it's a woman in disguise.

The only thing to do is to convince us, just as the princess must convince the others. Sorvino pretty much pulls off the tour de farce, to the point where we really do come to look upon her three-timing as cruel.

Of course, these characters are ripe for the picking. They are victims of their own mistaken identities as anti-romantics. In fact, Leontine all but melts at her man's wooing -- "he" does, after all, know just what a woman wants to hear. Shaw is splendidly, poignantly funny throughout Leontine's transformation.

Hemocrates proves just as pliable, and just as love-starved. Kingsley plays off his usual somber, serious image to make a wonderful ass of himself at the end while managing to maintain our sympathy. As for Agis, well, we really don't doubt for long how he will see things.

Even with Peploe's subtle distancing techniques, we never really get past the artificiality of the piece. All we can do is go with the flow and, like the characters, enjoy the performances.

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