A British-German co-production with an English-speaking international cast, NOSTRADAMUS chronicles much of the adult life of the 16th-century French doctor and herbalist who became famous for his prophecies, many of which supposedly anticipated events in the 20th century. While this
lushly mounted costume drama flirts with unintentional camp, particularly during Amanda Plummer's peculiar turn as Catherine de Medici, it seems to have been made with earnest intent.
Michel de Nostradamus (Tcheky Karyo), a Jew whose family masqueraded as Catholic in order to deceive the Inquisition, studies medicine and develops theories about nutrition, herbal remedies, and proper sanitation as preventive measures against the rampaging plague. He becomes the student of Dr.
Scalinger (F. Murray Abraham), a leading scientist of the day whose connections to the nobility have insulated him from attacks by the church. Learning of Michel's strange visions of future times and far-off lands, Scalinger teaches him to enter trance states and focus his premonitions.
Michel marries Marie (Julia Ormond), Scalinger's assistant, and fathers two children, but he loses them all to a new outbreak of plague. Escaping arrest by the Inquisition, Michel flees to a remote village, where he sets up practice as a physician, marries Anne (Assumpta Serna), a young widow,
and begins raising a large family. Michel has increasingly apocalyptic visions of future wars and technological destruction and begins recording them in the form of quatrains. He publishes a book of prophecies, one of which forecasts the death of King Henry II. Michel boldly takes a copy of his
book to Versailles to present to the king and queen. The king (Anthony Higgins) reacts scornfully, while the queen, Catherine de Medici (Amanda Plummer), takes an interest in the young seer. When the king's death occurs exactly as predicted--in the course of a joust staged for sport--the queen
takes the throne and consolidates her power. The Inquisition finally arrests Michel, but Queen Catherine intervenes and extends to Michel the lifelong protection of the court. He continues to prophesy. A final title avers that "there is still time to understand his words."
As played by the grim-faced Tcheky Karyo, Michel resolutely withstands torture, illness and grief, yet remains curiously unaffected by it all. The film is structured as a series of vignettes which dramatize the seer's growing awareness of his gift and the increasingly catastrophic nature of his
prophecies. Nostradamus' early visions are staged for the film and feature the seer as an observer/participant. At one point, he's riding in a carriage through the French countryside when he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a pitched street battle involving tanks and Nazi troops. Later in
the film, Michel gazes into a tin of water which conjures up montages of sepia-toned newsreel film footage and color news video, all depicting recognizable 20th-century figures and events (Hitler, JFK, the Gulf War, etc.). The first strategy is somewhat less likely to induce giggling fits than the
second. Director Roger Christian (art director of ALIEN) achieves a convincing period feel, making expert use of his Romanian locations. Christian has a story credit, and there is every reason to believe he takes the material seriously. (Violence, sexual situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: A British-German co-production with an English-speaking international cast, NOSTRADAMUS chronicles much of the adult life of the 16th-century French doctor and herbalist who became famous for his prophecies, many of which supposedly anticipated events in t… (more)