In medieval Europe, a castle lies in an isolated region, populated with the servants and subjects of the nobleman (Michel Simon) who owns it, living there with his far younger wife, Blanche (Ligia Branice), an innocent sworn to remain loyal to the elderly Master no matter what might befall them. Today there is held a celebration to mark the arrival in the castle of the King (Georges Wilson) who is staying over; he is immediately taken with Blanche when she finally shows up for the party, having dithered over her preparations, but then so is the King's page Bartolomeo (Jacques Perrin) who begins to form a plan in his mind to seduce her, a plan that will lead to tragedy for them all...
Before director Walerian Borowczyk truly got his career as an eroticist of cinema underway, and after he had made his mark as the creator of surreal animations, he made a few features that operated as a transition between those two poles, and if you were expecting his trademark nudity and offbeat humour then you would be let down by Blanche, as it was more an attempt to conjure a screen version of the famous (in Poland) Juliusz Slowacki epic poem of the century before, and in doing so concoct an authentic-feeling drama of days of yore. To that extent, with his carefully crafted art design assisting more than the actors did to be frank, you had to admit he succeeded.
What he didn't so much succeed with was sustaining a compelling narrative, with this coming across as an exercise in precisely-managed style more than it was interested in eliciting an emotional reaction from the audience, and that in spite of the events of the final act which should have by all rights provided a tug on the heartstrings. It could have been down to the casting of the director's wife as Blanche - you could understand why he would make that choice, but reportedly she was extremely eccentric on the set which alienated the married couple from the rest of the cast. She is certainly a difficult presence to get on with when watching the story play out, though whether that was down to her technique or through the character as written is moot.
Michel Simon, the Swiss-born actor who became one of France's most beloved character performers, was by this point ending his career; also something of an idiosyncratic presence in life as well as on the screen, he was just as difficult to get on with making Blanche as Borowczyk and his wife were, and this sense of all the participants not seeing eye to eye was palpable when watching. In its manner, you could regard that as assisting the overall atmosphere and interaction, after all no one in this tale wound up better off than they had been at the beginning as Bartolomeo and the King find themselves rivals for Blanche's affections, or they would if she was remotely interested in either of them, preferring to stay with her spouse no matter how wrongheaded that seems to us.
Not that she was wrong to consider betraying the sanctity of marriage, but you had to question the Master's motives for marrying a far younger woman and his exercising of power would likely have more to do with his wooing of her. Then again, Blanche is so difficult to read you'd be hard pressed to perceive what was going through her head, if indeed it was anything very much, which renders the acts performed in her name all the more wasteful since she really doesn't appear worth the fuss, in spite of the director presenting her naked emerging from her bath in her very first scene (the sole item of nudity in the film) as if to say, here's what's at stake, boys! Obviously we were dealing with alternative values to what the modern day of even 1972 would have tolerated, and there cannot be many duels fought over women from that day to this in comparison to the admittedly vague time period here (they have invented the trombone, however, so your guess is as good as mine), just as not many die for falling for the wrong person - or you'd like to think so. Strictly for fans of the era, then.