French historians love this film. Not surprisingly, the most popular films about World War I – like the brilliant Lawrence of Arabia — are set far from the un-cinematic slog of the western front. Life and Nothing But is set on the front, but after the war, where the French are trying both to tally their losses and commemorate their victory.
According to the infamous seventeenth-century gossip, Madame de Sévigné, on April 24, 1671 François Vatel, distraught over the late arrival of fish for a banquet in honor of Louis XIV, committed suicide by impaling himself through the heart with a sword. Sévigné and other nobles speculated that Vatel, a well-known perfectionist, succumbed to the overwhelming pressures of planning an extravagant three-day banquet in honor of the king’s royal visit and decided to kill himself instead of having to face public humiliation for his failure.
With all of the components of a riveting murder-mystery, including a baffling disappearance, a set of gossipy characters, a love triangle, conflicting evidence, and a scandalous trial, A Tale of Two Murders: Passion and Power in Seventeenth-Century France by James R. Farr is a fascinating read.