- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

''Triumph of Love" remains at the mercy of an antique farcical situation that needs to be disarming but plays disagreeably more often than not. Mira Sorvino, cast as the princess of a mythical French domain of the early 18th century, finds it expedient to seduce three persons while trying to arouse the devotion of only one of them in earnest.

Her genuine hearththrob is a young man named Agis (Jay Rodan), the rightful, hereditary heir to her kingdom. The kingdom was seized by her late parents, who also orphaned and exiled Agis at a tender age. The boy lives in seclusion with a pair of worthy mentors, Ben Kingsley as a middle-aged bachelor philosopher named Hemocrates and Fiona Shaw as his spinster sister, Leontine, who prefers science and invention.

The princess disguises herself as a young male admirer named Phocion and crashes the estate that shelters Agis, Hemocrates and Leontine. While endearing herself to the youth, she also deceives the adults about her attraction to them, arousing sudden passion in those two, whose learning proves scant defense against flattery and insincere professions of love.

To avoid the sort of confusion the princess herself generates, one should explain that she reveals her true sex to both Agis and Hemocrates at an early stage. Only Leontine is kept in the dark for a prolonged period, allowing ample time for a kissing scene between the two actresses before things get cleared up. The coy aspects of the pretext demand a delicacy of the leading lady that Miss Sorvino botches or at least misses by a mile.

When first exchanging outfits with a male servant, she suggests little in the way of hesitation. The sense of the masquerade is that she's been itching for this sort of lark.

Miss Sorvino lacks any of the becoming self-doubt that might distinguish the playing of such a role.

She is saved from a contemptuous backlash only because Mr. Kingsley and Miss Shaw are such accomplished actors that watching them pretend to be deceived has independent entertainment value.

The source is a 1732 play by the French master Pierre Marivaux, who created a distinctive genre of romantic farce, even perfecting an idiom of innuendo so inimitable that his last name was borrowed to describe it.

The Shakespearean revival must have played a part in persuading producer Bernardo Bertolucci and his wife, Clare Peploe, the screenwriter and director, to attempt something along the lines of Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing" and other directors' later adaptations of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Twelfth Night" with a French text in translation.

Miss Peploe's pictorial schemes turn numerous scenes into a skittish obstacle course.

Pointless stylistic affectations seem to align the director with the princess at her most idle and cavalier. The practical effect is to enlarge your esteem for the actors who take their characters seriously Mr. Kingsley, Miss Shaw and Mr. Rodan while diminishing your regard for the unwary playgirls Miss Sorvino and the unseen (as far as I know) Miss Peploe.

TITLE: "Triumph of Love"

RATING: PG13 (Occasional sexual candor in the setting of an 18th-century romantic comedy)

CREDITS: Directed by Clare Peploe. Screenplay by Miss Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci and Marilyn Goldin, based on the play by Pierre Marivaux.

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

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