By CARYN JAMES
Published: November 23, 1994, Wednesday
"I am Michel de Nostradame," the French actor Tcheky Karyo says in English, his impassive face and monotone suggesting he might be an android. But no. "I am a scientist," he says. "Nostradamus" is an overstuffed historical soap opera about the 16th-century doctor, astrologer, prophet and all-around great guy. Its silly, anachronistic dialogue must have been hard to take seriously, which may account for the entire cast's poker faces.
Fighting the plague, Nostradamus gently puts little tablets made from rose petals under his patients' tongues. Though he has alarming visions (World War I is much on his mind, shown in sepia-toned scenes of German soldiers and tanks), his prophecies are less important at first than his persecution by the Inquisition. And, of course, there are his hot romances. You knew Nostradamus made prophecies -- interpreted as foretelling everything from the French Revolution to Armageddon -- but did you know he was irresistible to women?
Among his many conquests is his first wife, Marie (Julia Ormond). An assistant to Nostradamus's mentor (F. Murray Abraham), she is annoyed at being shut out of the men's research. "If you can't treat me as an equal, then find another woman," she shouts. Maybe Mrs. Nostradamus was just prophesying what women would be saying in 300 years.
Eventually Nostradamus peers into a basin of water and sees Hitler, John and Jacqueline Kennedy riding in the Dallas motorcade, and a nuclear explosion.
The film becomes giddiest when Catherine de Medici (Amanda Plummer) invites Nostradamus to the French royal court. He meets her children and sees a bloody future in which gallons of bright red paint flow down the walls. "I will prepare myself for some terrible times ahead," the queen says stiffly.
The film was directed by Roger Christian, the art director of "Alien," and it looks opulent as it sweeps through the Romanian countryside (doubling for France.)
"Nostradamus," which opens today at the Quad, ends with the legend: "There is still time to understand his words." Making sense of this movie would have been more than enough.
"Nostradamus" is rated R. It includes a graphic autopsy and partial nudity during a sex scene. NOSTRADAMUS Directed by Roger Christian; written by Knut Boeser and Piers Ashworth, based on the story by Mr. Boeser, Mr. Ashworth and Mr. Christian; director of photography, Denis Crossan; edited by Alan Strachan; music by Barrington Pheloung; production designer, Peter J. Hampton; produced by Edward Simons and Harold Reichebner; released by Orion Classics. Quad Cinema, 13th Street west of Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Village. Running time: 118 minutes. This film is rated R. WITH: Tcheky Karyo (Nostradamus), F. Murray Abraham (Scalinger), Rutger Hauer (Monk), Amanda Plummer (Catherine de Medici) and Julia Ormond (Marie).
Michel de Nostredame, the title character of this supposed biopic lived in the 1500. Many of us still know his name from his legacy of prophetic visions. I saw a documentary about him once on HBO, several years ago, but I can remember very little of it now. It was enlightening and interesting at the time. One thing I surely remember is that Nostradamus predicted Hitler some 400 years before the man even roamed the Earth. Nostradamus missed the name by one letter, however. He called him "Hister." Regardless, I know little more about the man's prophecies now. This film is much more interested in showing us the sexual and religious mores of this ancient time against a backdrop of Nostradamus' lusty adventures. I guess I shouldn't be so harsh though. The film does have admirable moments and it's really not all that lurid. Still, "Nostradamus" concentrates more on the life of the man than his work. And, of course, one can really be sure how much of this is really based in fact.
My Encyclopedia, published in 1970, has only a short entry on the man. The entry claims that he studied medicine, as he does in the film, and then taught for a short time. But the Nostradamus' shown in this film is quite controversial, what they would have called a heretic at the time. It is a bit doubtful anyone would have given this character a teaching gig. The film also shows him to have a close relationship with Catherine de Medici and this seems true also. But whether the prophet gained notoriety because he accurately predicted the death of King Henry II, her husband, or not is anyone's guess. The film has it so. The film also shows Nostradamus' two marriages and his association with the secretive Scalinger. How much of these plotlines are accurate is anybody's guess.
The film seems to have most of the historical settings fairly right, however. It looks like the 1500's. The costumes look right and so forth. The film is quite visual and eloquent in it's displays yet it can be harshly realistic when exposing us to medical practices or diseased persons of the time. Still, one always wonders if this is what the 1500's looked like or if this just what we think the era look liked because of other movies we've seen set in this time. Mention must also be made of the language, which is probably not the exact way English would have been spoken at the time, let alone whatever language the prophet really spoke in. (He was, in actuality, French). Also, this is a international production with several countries obviously represented behind the camera, So it's no surprise we get a few accents in the cast as well. American actors like F. Murray Abraham, Rutger Hauer, and Amanda Plummer play in the film but Nostradamus is played by Tcheky Karyo. (Your guess is as good as mine). The film was lensed in Romania and at Ealing Studios in London as well.
The film has some strange moments. For example, Hauer plays a mad monk whom Nostradamus meets while alone and on the lamb. He has invented some sort of gunpowder. But we are never sure if this is a vision or not. Is it something the prophet sees for real which leads him to predict the use of gunpowder? We cannot tell. Another oddity: At first, we see the young Nostradamus (Matthew Morley) having bad dreams. These later appear as hallucinations to the grown character. Eventually, the prophet apparently learns how to confine his visions to reflections in his soup bowl. Towards the end of the film, Nostradamus is apparently picking up future transmissions of the A&E cable channel in his water dish. He sees black and white newsreel footage of WWII, Hitler and JFK. Finally, the film ends with Nostradamus having visions of a Steven Spielberg space epic in his head. It's unclear to us whether he is having a prophetic vision of future space travel or of Kubrick's "2001." Moments like these make the film seem odd at best and questionable at the very least.
Scripted by Knut Boesner, from a story developed by director Roger Christian and others, "Nostradamus" is ultimately disappointing. It would seem a definite knowledge of the man's prophecies would be helpful before watching the film. These facts simply are not given here. No, this film seems to have been made for those already initiated into the world of the man's work. This is a biopic for them. In other words, this film of Nostradamus' life is for fans only.
Movie Review by Lodger