(Paris) Joaquin Phoenix wears the emperor’s cocked hat for the very ambitious Napoleon by Ridley Scott, a bet worth nearly 200 million dollars which attempts to mix Homeric battles and the sentimental life of Bonaparte and is entitled to a worldwide release on Wednesday.

In 2 hours 39 minutes, this spectacular film retraces the destiny of this figure in French and European history, from the French Revolution to his exile in Saint Helena. And emphasizes the Corsican’s passionate love for Joséphine, his first wife, played by Vanessa Kirby.

Anglo-Saxon production obliges, it is in the language of the “perfidious Albion” that the pages of the history of France are turned. Including when Tahar Rahim plays a key figure of the Revolution, then of the Directory, Paul Barras.

A filmmaker of excess, a history buff, the director of Gladiator, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, and creator of Alien, admits to being captivated by the destiny of a leader drunk on conquest, who set Europe on fire and bloody.

“Clearly, the man fascinated the world, as a leader, a diplomat, a warrior, a politician, and of course as a dictator. Dictatorship requires bloodshed,” explained Ridley Scott during a roundtable in Paris.

Two hundred years after his death, Corsica remains a divisive figure, with some praising his art of war and others denouncing the millions of deaths in the Napoleonic campaigns or calling him the gravedigger of the Revolution. The film refuses to decide.

It was obviously in Paris, a stone’s throw from Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides, that the world premiere of this blockbuster was organized, in the company of the actors. A first since the Hollywood actors’ strike which ended at the beginning of November.

With Napoleon, Ridley Scott, some of whose films have become classics, but who has not had significant success since Alone on Mars in 2015 with Matt Damon, is playing big.

At 85, this is one of his last chances to follow in the footsteps of cinema legends: Abel Gance, in 1927, with a seven-hour fresco on the French emperor who entered the history of the 7th art, but also Stanley Kubrick.

The director of 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange dreamed of shooting a grandiose Napoleon. A disproportionate project that he was unable to complete before his death in 1999, but whose storyline remains.

The one depicted by Ridley Scott follows Napoleon to Moscow in the grip of flames. And allowed himself some liberties with History, Bonaparte attending for example the beheading of Marie-Antoinette or having the Pyramids fired upon.

To resurrect with great fanfare the Napoleonic gesture, from the beginnings with the capture of Toulon to Waterloo via Austerlitz, the director was able to count on the deep pockets of Apple.

Unlike Netflix, the Apple company releases its feature films in theaters. After producing Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon), Apple has acquired another important director with Ridley Scott.

For greater realism, the film was largely shot on natural settings in the United Kingdom. The money is seen on the screen, notably with an anthology scene at Austerlitz, where Napoleon has his cannon fired at the enemy cavalry, drowned at the bottom of a frozen lake.

Ridley Scott wants to add a sentimental dimension to Napoleon’s military career, focusing at length on the relationship between Bonaparte and Joséphine.

The role is played by Vanessa Kirby, revealed as Princess Margaret in the series The Crown and who brings a welcome touch of modernity to the character and the film.

“The psychology of each of them was so fascinating. In the end, it’s like I never really understood them,” Vanessa Kirby said. “They were inexorably drawn to each other, but it never seemed healthy and calm to me. It was an obsession. »