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CANNES, France (Reuters) - Veteran French director Bertrand Tavernier constructs a "16th century thriller" in "La Princesse de Montpensier," a tale of passion, betrayal and vengeance showing at the Cannes film festival.
The picture, based on an austere novella by the 17th century writer Madame de Lafayette, tells the story of a young noblewoman who is forced to renounce the man she loves as a girl when she is married off by her family for political reasons.
Set during the brutal 16th century Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants, "La Princesse de Montpensier" shows the young woman, played by Melanie Thierry, buffeted by the forces of reason and the power of her passions.
Covering the same period portrayed in an earlier French film, Patrice Chereau's "La reine Margot," Tavernier creates an action-filled story that recalls the epic intrigue of Alexandre Dumas as much as it does Madame de Lafayette's short text.
The film features muddy battles, torrid love scenes and sumptuous images of the French countryside, but Tavernier said he wanted to avoid "historical reconstructions" and tell a dynamic story based around the emotions of his characters.
"I think there's a tension in the feelings and emotions which come up from time to time, the extreme jealousy, which are the sentiments you find in 'film noir'" Tavernier told reporters after the first press screening.
"In that sense, we made a sort of love thriller from the 16th century," he said.
Madame de Lafayette, one of the great French writers of the 17th century, is most famous for her novel "La princesse de Cleves," which also explores the danger of passionate love, an irresistible force from which no good ever comes.
The beautiful Marie de Montpensier, totally under the power of her male relatives and protectors who see her both as a political tool and a possession, must maintain her poise in the middle of four powerful men who all desire her.
"I was very touched by the destiny of this young woman," Tavernier said. "As we wrote the film, I became horrified at the way they treated women at that time and I wanted to show it like that, as part of normal life."
Early in the film, as Marie's mother seeks to persuade her daughter to give up her feelings for the violent and passionate Henri de Guise, she thanks heaven that she and her husband have been spared falling in love.
Marie, however, is not so fortunate.
As well as de Guise, played by Gaspard Ulliel, Marie's jealous and brooding husband, (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) and the mercurial Duke of Anjou, (Raphael Personnaz) both circle menacingly.
Only her older tutor, the Count de Chabannes, played by Lambert Wilson, appears willing to sublimate his love, teaching his pupil about poetry and the natural world and trying to save her from her own impulses in the dangerous world of the court.
The film is in the main competition of the Cannes festival, which is due to run until May 23.
Editing by Paul Casciato