The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

Issue 13 (August 2010)  |   Issue Editor: Larry Swain


Kaamelott: A Semi-heroic Epic

Judith P. Shoaf

University of Florida

© 2010 by Judith P. Shoaf. All rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2010 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.


Abstract:  The French television series Kaamelott is an attempt to develop a new media franchise which incorporates a great deal of medieval lore in a fifth-century setting, while riffing on the traditional characters, plot, and geopolitics in original ways. Its main asset and limitation is the dedication of the writer/director/star/editor/composer Alexandre Astier.


§1.  As seems to have been the case for at least nine hundred years, King Arthur is ready to be embodied in a wide range of fantasies about the nature of power in an ideal past. In the twenty-first century, we have had Arthur as a sexually adventurous acolyte of a proto-Wikka Goddess religion, a Pelagian Christian leading a coalition of Picts and Sarmatians, a rightful ruler of Shrek's Swamp, the last of the Roman Emperors (in a literal translatio imperii), a teenage hearthtrob in shining armor who lives in his overbearing father's castle, and plenty more.1 The French TV series Kaamelott is in some ways more traditional than any of these, in that it attempts to assemble the maximum number of medieval characters in a fifth-century setting, and to portray the conflict between their various ideals, ambitions, and limitations in the context of daily life. The result is of course a compromise—between historical accuracy and legend, between versions of the legend, between the desire for fidelity and the ambition to astonish—and produces a compelling new King Arthur.2

§2.  SPOILERS! Around about the year 440, in the dreary backwoods kingdoms of Britain, a bastard child is born to Ygerne, Duchess of Tintagel, and the mad Uther Pendragon.3 Confided to the protection of the druid Merlin, he moves from one foster home to another for the next six years. In the meantime, a young son of King Ban is being raised by a fairy, the Lady of the Lake, and trained to become the divinely ordained King of Britain. Marvelous to relate, a sword appears stuck in a rock, and the news is that whoever can pull this sword from the stone is the chosen of the Gods to rule Britain. But it is not Ban's son who draws the sword; he has been rejected. At the age of four, taken secretly to the place by Merlin, the bastard boy is able to draw the sword. He replaces it. Two years later, he is sent at the instigation of Ygerne (who believes Uther would kill him if he knew of his existence) to Roman military school. At the age of twenty, he has risen to the rank of cop on the beat in Rome. He falls in love with a Roman woman and marries her secretly, but she has a living husband, who returns to take possession of her.4 The Emperor seeks a native Briton to serve as dux bellorum on an expedition to put down uprisings in Britannia, and this street cop is chosen for the role. He finds himself in a dreary backwoods of small kingdoms, among rough and ignorant people. Again he is taken to the place where the sword still stands in its stone, and again he draws it. Now the proposed Roman puppet has become the rightful king of the Britons. His spiritual advisers, notably the Lady of the Lake, urge him to create a Round Table of knights dedicated to the Quest of the Holy Grail. After making peace and instituting progressive governments in Logres, Scotland, Orkney, Armorica, Ireland, and Carmelide (this last by marrying the king of Carmelide's daughter, Guenièvre), he establishes an order of chivalry at his fortress of Kaamelott, and Lancelot, son of King Ban, becomes his chief general and advisor. For fifteen years King Arthur and his knights defend the island against Saxons, Angles, Wisigoths, Germans, Burgundians, Vikings, Chlodoric, and Attila the Hun. They quest after treasures, through labyrinths haunted by dragons, ghouls, and hydras. But after a while things go wrong; Arthur's crimes allow the advent of dark powers, in the form of a mysterious stranger, into Logres. Arthur, who realizes that what he really wants in life is children but believes he cannot beget them, commits suicide. However, he is saved by Lancelot and will go on (almost certainly) to preside over the achievement of the Grail, the rise of Mordred, and Camlann. Did I mention that the local crop circles appear to be caused by UFOs (3.21 Silbury Hill II), and that Excalibur is "the same sort of thing" as Obi-Wan Kenobi's lightsaber, which somehow gets into Logres through a Stargate but is carefully replaced on Tatooine before Obi-Wan can miss it (3.43 Stargate II)?5 And that Arthur is a terrific kisser (3.93 Le Baiser romain)?

§3.  This is the unfolding story, so far, of a projected 40-hour Kaamelott epic. The TV series (2005–9) and planned movie trilogy are the creature of a single man, Alexandre Astier, who writes, casts, directs, stars as Arthur in, composes music for, and (after a few seasons' learning curve) edits it. The double AA of Kaamelott is his monogram,6 and the early episodes cheerfully proclaimed they were "forged by" him. He enjoys promoting the series, and YouTube and DailyMotion, as well as the French press, teem with interviews which sometimes become lectures on the state of French TV, or on his personal and inimitable ("je sais dormir peu, deux heures pendant le tournage pendant un mois . . . Pas plus d'un mois, c'est physiquement impossible"; ("I can sleep very little, two hours [a night] during shooting for a month . . . Not more than a month, that's physically impossible"; Vincent and Jacquiau 2007) methods for creating a hit series. Kaamelott is indeed a hit series in France, more popular than any non-American series,7 and is also shown in Switzerland, Belgium, and Quebec. A series of comic books based on the series (also authored by Astier, though he has an artist, Stephen Dupré, to realize his ideas) has been successful, the DVDs sell very well, and two books which compare Kaamelott's version of the Middle Ages with the historian's version have been published.8 If Astier completes his movie trilogy (still all to be shot, but with the first film funded, and with the cast ready to continue their TV roles and potential guest stars eager to participate), he will have the most substantial Round Table epic of the twentieth-first century so far, but few non-francophone folks know much about it.

§4.  This is partly because of the format of the 2005–6 seasons, which consist of 400 episodes, each three and a half minutes long. This format was imposed by the television station, which wanted Kaamelott as a replacement for a short-format office comedy, Caméra Café; though the episodes were broadcast in pairs, each one has its own opening and closing titles. The format in turn imposed a comic structure on the series, with a brisk pace, plenty of unexpected goofiness, and a final zinger heard over the closing titles. Viewed in sequence on a DVD, these short episodes take a bit of getting used to: rapid-fire dialogue, swift shifts in scene and personnel, and outrageous shtick, punctuated every three and a half minutes with an earsplitting triple horn blast announcing the beginning of a new episode. Add to this a dialogue heavy on slang, malapropisms, and mangled phraseology—comic effects not easy to translate. But for Francophone fans waiting for their brief nightly fix, it has been a joy.

§5.  Astier proved endlessly inventive, marking off thematic territories (planning or fighting battles, royal family dinners, knights in the tavern, Merlin in his laboratory, Guenièvre and Arthur talking in bed, diplomatic encounters, peasants protesting) but presenting them with a new twist at each reappearance. Much of the invention is verbal, and much of the comedy has to do with the language Astier uses, a low-key vernacular which is both contemporary and (usually) appropriate to the situation. Occasionally the dialogue involves anachronisms ("I'm a soldier, not a crêpe vendor!" 3.7 Le Déserteur) but usually it keeps to topics which the Arthurian characters have in common with their audience: food and the physical, love, ideals, pride, shame, frustration, ambition. There are plenty of fart jokes and vulgarities, too. Arthur himself is given to flights of fine speech, but is rarely understood (and often lies); most of the other characters are inarticulate or abruptly direct. Two famous catch-phrases, both associated with the drinking buddies Karadoc and Perceval, are "Sire, on en a gros!" (Sire, we're upset!) and "Ce n'est pas faux" (You're not wrong), the latter serving as a "secret weapon" in conversations where their interlocutor uses an unfamiliar term. Astier's bubbling language and twists on sitcom situations led to a perception early on of the series as purely comic. In fact, the Arthurian work it most resembles is Monty Python and the Holy Grail; Astier seems happy to acknowledge this film as a predecessor, but his purposes have turned out to be quite different from the cheerful, scattershot satire of the Pythons or of Rowan Atkinson in his Blackadder series.

§6.  The perception of Kaamelott as satirical in the first seasons also had to do with the presentation of Arthur and his knights as dramatically unheroic. Astier's Arthur is from the beginning temperamental, insecure, and confused, though clearly the only man for the job. He has enlightened ideas about torture, judicial punishment, slavery, and public welfare, though his attempts to put them into law (much less practice) are fraught with compromise and dissatisfaction. He is a valiant warrior, who fears only three things: snakes, the dark, and his mother (2.33 L'Ancien temps). He is the alpha male of Kaamelott, with a wife and several mistresses and, eventually, the wife of his married knight Karadoc; the other male residents seem to have little use for women.9 He is bright, educated, capable of great courtesy, and quick to smile at ironies; he is also parsimonious of praise and honors, selfish and stubborn, and easily ticked off. A typical short episode—for example, the very first episode, Heat—has him attempting to reason with his companions, holding back his impatience while they seek to please him with ever more outrageous suggestions, and then exploding into furious blows.10 Of course, to provoke such explosions, Arthur's court has to be crawling with less bright, educated, brave, and courteous people, and this is the case. Some folks are ignorant or spectacularly naive (especially Guinièvre and Perceval), some are insanely aggressive or fearful, some are just rude and pushy. Only Lancelot is comparable to Arthur in his qualities and ideals—and he covets Arthur's place in bed and in the Grail quest. Astier insists that this is not so much a satire of kingship and heroism as a re-imagining of these conditions: just as the language they speak is everyday language, the great deeds of the Round Table are mixed in with the multiple business of daily living. He is also concerned with the notion, Christian if not medieval, that heroism is not reserved for the "best knight."11 Thus when heroism and great deeds are in fact portrayed (in the films, presumably—though we glimpse heroism in Bohort at the end of Livre V), there will be a sense of extraordinary achievement.

§7.  While Astier was plotting his three-and-a-half-minute entertainments, he was also developing an audience familiar with an epic cast of Arthurian characters, as reconceived by Alexandre Astier. In Livre I alone, audiences became familiar with Arthur and Guenièvre, Merlin and Father Blaise, the Lady of the Lake and Arthur's mother Ygerne, Léodagan of Carmélide with his wife Séli and son Yvain, the knights Lancelot son of Ban, Bohort of Gaunes, Calogrenant of Caledonia, Perceval of Wales, and Karadoc of Vannes (plus the faces, though not yet the characters, of Arthur's nephew Gauvain, Duke Galessin of Orcanie, Dagonet, and Hervé de Rinel), as well as Arthur's Master of Arms, Arthur's mistresses Demetra and Azénor, the Roman soldier Caius Camillus, the wizard Elias of Kelliwic'h, the Répurgateur (a kind of Papal inquisitor), the bodyguard Grüdu, Guenièvre's maid Angharad, the Innkeeper, the peasants Guethenoc and Roparzh, the black-market merchant Venec, Attila the Hun, and the King of the Burgundians. All these (except the mistress Azénor, replaced in later Livres by Aelis and the Fisherman's Twins) continue to develop their roles for the first four Livres, while more characters are gradually added to the roster. This is a large group of characters to get to know in a mere 350 minutes of sketches, but Astier uses the short form to focus on them one after another. An additional help in quick recognition is a variety of distinctive hairstyles and (for the men) facial hair, and the fact that the characters have at most two costumes apiece in the first Livre—with Lancelot wearing white, Perceval blue, Karadoc red, and Bohort green, so that a viewer immediately adjusts expectations based on previous encounters.12 Astier delights in foiling such expectations. To take one example, Bohort, minister of protocol, prefers diplomacy and festival planning to defending the castle; his affect is cowardly and effeminate (the court casually assumes he is gay13 ), and he becomes depressed every winter. However, in some episodes he enjoys a mutually satisfactory exchange of opinions with the brutal warrior Léodagan; goes berserk and defeats an entire enemy army; and turns out to have a beautiful wife who adores him back home in Gaunes. Thus he becomes both familiar and opaque, a distinctive but complex character.

§8.  Astier relies on audience familiarity with the story and iconography of Arthur; he gives us shorthand versions and then teases out his new interpretations. The series was preceded in 2003 by a short film (Dies irae) in which Arthur and his knights, in full—noisy—armor, sit around the Round Table, discussing the dinner menu and the Grail Quest (with a proposal to manufacture a stunning facsimile of that object rather than continue the miserable task of looking for it). The armor is an anachronism in the fifth century, but Astier kept it for the first few Livres, as the quickest way to identify Arthur's men at the Round Table or on the battlefield. In Livre I Astier opens up such three-and-a-half-minute topics as where the Table came from (a craftsman made it to Arthur's specs, 1.3 La Table de Breccan), what the knights actually do at the Table (dictate their adventures so that Father Blaise can transcribe them, 1.51 Enluminures), what the rules are for membership and participation (e.g., 1.59 La Jupe de Calogrenant), and so on. Similarly, he assumes we know the story of Excalibur as the Sword in the Stone (the simplest alternative to the sword in the anvil or the sword from the lake); we recognize Excalibur by the special lighting and sound effects, but more gradually understand what it means to Arthur and the Britons (2.52 Excalibur et le Destin; 2.99 L'Orateur). The court at Kaamelott is devoted to the Quest of the Holy Grail. It seems clear that Astier has chosen the tradition according to which Perceval is the Grail Knight (1.12 Le Sixième sens; 2.92 Excalibur et le Destin); having learned to reply "Ce n'est pas faux" to any comment he does not understand, he is well prepared not to ask questions if he ever gets to the Grail castle. As the Livres progress, however, it becomes clear that no-one knows what the Grail is, what it looks like, or where to seek it—Astier's joke on the multiple guises of this great McGuffin of Arthurian literature (Lacy 2005). Unfortunately for Arthur, maintaining his own and the court's enthusiasm for this hopeless quest day after day is a weary task; both he (2.50 Always) and Perceval (3.24, Les Suppléants ) comment at various times that "Le Graal, c'est de la merde/une vraie saloperie" (The Grail is shit/garbage). Astier also takes for granted that his audience will expect to see the adulterous triangle of Lancelot, Guenièvre, and Arthur, and he takes this as the backbone of his plot for the first four Livres. As may be seen from the summary above, he introduces into the friendship of the two men a profound competitiveness which dates, unknown to both, from their infancy, and in which Guenièvre is merely a pawn.

§9.  After 400 lighthearted episodes delivered on time (one Livre each spring and fall), Livre V, which should have been broadcast in January 2007, marked several kinds of radical change. First, the format changed. Instead of two three-and-a-half-minute episodes an evening, viewers would get one seven-minute episode; moreover, there would be presentations of a different edit (one or two hour-long episodes), using the same footage, on an evening preceding each half of the season. Next, the two halves of the Livre were not after all broadcast when they were expected; the first was broadcast in May instead of January, and the second half was not ready until November 2007. Finally, the tone of this Livre is almost entirely dark. It begins in midwinter and portrays first the dissolution of the Round Table and then Arthur's personal descent into despair. Much of Livre V focuses on Lancelot, who is being guided deeper into madness by the mysterious Méléagant; contrasting with this is Méléagant's more subtle attack on Arthur, leading to a suicide from which—we understand based on the final shot of the last episode—Lancelot will save him. There was some question as to whether Astier had somehow done a bait-and-switch, turning everybody's favorite comedy into a tragedy with epic pretensions.14 He worked to answer this criticism with his "director's cut" DVD, which did not appear until late in 2008, and which offered 8 longer episodes, including some of the humor which had been left on the cutting-room floor in the broadcast version. Anticipation for Livre VI, the prequel portraying Arthur's (and everybody else's) youth and the founding of the Round Table, ran high, sparked by a showing of seven 40-minute episodes in a Paris cinema palace in March 2009. The full season was broadcast in autumn 2009 as nine episodes. The final episode returns to Arthur after his suicide attempt and further develops the disastrous conflict with Lancelot, inviting us to speculate about the content of the film trilogy as the Round Table literally burns.

§10.  The fantasy elements of Arthurian lore are not neglected in Kaamelott, and they are supplemented with bits from modern fantasies such as Star Wars and Stargate. Astier has had to rely to some extent on sound effects and actors' reactions to imply the existence of dragons or "other planes" of existence.15 Perhaps for this reason, he ignores the common conceit that dragons are wise as well as nasty; in his world, so far, they are vermin to be exterminated—offscreen. He has developed a system of spiritual forces producing conflict in Logres. From the beginning of the first Livre, the Lady of the Lake, a slightly silly but attractive young woman, has been Arthur's spiritual guide, along with Merlin. Merlin's purview is natural magic—he is basically a scientist, though he can come up with military spells and he heals the wounded in Kaamelott's battles (e.g. 1.49 Le Sort de rage, 1.58 Le Coup d'épée). His primary interest is communing with wolves (1.38 Merlin et les Loups) and other animals, and he rarely advises Arthur. He is a Druid, but does not enjoy socializing with other Druids (2.4 and 4.38, Le Rassemblement du corbeau) and cannot read Druidic (3.12 La Potion de vivacité). He contrasts with the clever, efficient wizard Elias, whose projects get funded by Arthur—especially when Elias is able to turn himself into a facsimile of Arthur to approve them (4.79 L'Usurpateur). Merlin would like to be seen as the spiritual leader of Kaamelott, but that place is really occupied by Father Blaise, a Christian priest and librarian who has abundant advice for Arthur. While the Répurgateur, a papal inquisitor, enjoys humiliating Merlin and threatening him as a pagan (1.39 L'Expurgation de Merlin), Blaise generally works in tandem with Merlin, as for example at the ceremony of wife-trading (4.23–24) and at Perceval's baptism (4.99–100). Merlin feels, rightly, that Blaise's Christianity has taken over the natural world; Perceval is baptized by both of them in the Sacred Lake at midsummer, and after Blaise has preached a few lines on the subject Merlin has nothing left to add. The Lady of the Lake, unlike the men, brings messages from some kind of committee of deities who have approved Arthur's kingship. They have numerous projects for him and rules that he needs to obey. The Lady's sometimes confused suggestions are not always welcome. In 3.92 Le Culte secret she reproves Arthur, a Christian, for practicing a cult of Mars; he points out to her that her support for the "Dieu Unique" contradicts her role as representative of "les dieux." Finally, she is unable to prevent his affair with Karadoc's wife in Livre IV, and the gods cast her out; from the lovely glowing fairy she was, she becomes a bag lady (une clodo). In this miserable condition she is confronted by Méléagant, played by the magnificent Carlo Brandt, who announces that he represents "different Gods" whose role is "scuttling the ship" (5.21 Aux Yeux de tous III; 5.38 Jizo).

§11.  Astier insisted even at the beginning that, if one turned off the sound, the production quality of Kaamelott was closer to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings than to a TV comedy.16 The series was shot in 16:9 screen ratio and HD, and he has been careful to avoid showing onscreen anything that goes beyond his means to show it well. Thus, he has commented that he will not show an aerial view of the fortress of Kaamelott until he can approximate something like a reconstruction of the Cadbury ruins (Astier 2007; for Cadbury see Pincas 2006). As his budgets have grown, they have purchased more exteriors and location shooting, variety in costuming, a few scenes involving horses, and other storytelling realia, as well as the occasional special effect (such as Arthur morphing into Elias in 4.79 L'Usurpateur, or the "plaques de dissimulation," camouflage panels, near the end of Livre IV). In Livre VI, Arthur and various other characters inhabit the streets of Rome on Cinecittà's sets. Livre VI also makes use of more extensive special effects in presenting the distant "plane" of reality which is home for the gods in charge of Britain, and in presenting the vast crowds of Britons Arthur musters in the name of liberty. Another important addition to the long-format episodes is music; whereas little music was needed in the early Livres, Astier can now let himself go composing proper scores for the longer episodes.17

§12.  It remains to be seen whether Astier will pull off his Arthurian trilogy. Its scope—that is, his ambition—runs far beyond anything he has achieved so far, in terms of epic action. His only real attempt at a transcendent moment is the intercutting of the baptism of Perceval with the temptation of Lancelot by Méléagant (4.99 Le Désordre et la nuit), and it is spoiled on the one hand by the gratuitous nature of the baptism (there is no plot preparation or explanation) and the quarrelling preparatory to it. Astier seems confident that, if his fans flock to the first film, all three will be made; he also seems willing to let his troupe age a few years before their final battles. His intention is evidently to produce films whose material reality will be authentically fifth-century and closely related to the sites and events associated with Arthur in the late twentieth century. On the other hand, he has shown no interest so far in portraying the defense of Britain against the Angles and Saxons; it remains to be seen whether one of the films will give us Badon Hill. The achievement of the Grail by Perceval is almost a certainty, but it is possible that this will have science-fiction elements, as Astier's Perceval is fascinated by the stars and is familiar with the theory of relativity (2.93 Stargate; 3.22 Le Repos du guerrier II). The way is also prepared for the appearance of Mordred, both by Arthur's discovery that what he wants most of all is a child and his dreams of a son in the second half of Livre V, and by his early marriage with the Roman woman Aconia Minor in Livre VI. Lancelot and Guenièvre have already eloped, more or less, in Livre IV, but it is not out of the question that their relationship might develop further in the trilogy; fans also hope that Arthur's relationship with his wife will develop (she remains a virgin even after her sojourn with Lancelot), since Anne Girouard's Guenièvre is a delightful creation—"dumb as a chair" (2.13 L'Escorte II) but loyal and tender. However I may speculate, it is clear that Astier will, as he has always vowed to do, astonish his fans.18


Notes

1.   I refer to Mists of Avalon, King Arthur, Shrek the Third, Last Legion, and the BBC Merlin miniseries. Cf. http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0002000/, which lists 26 appearances of the character on film or TV since 2000 (inclusive).  [Back]

2.   The "seasons" of Kaamelott are designated as Livres (Books) on all the promotional materials. Episodes are cited in this article by livre and episode number according to the broadcast order at the "Liste" article on Wikipédia. The content of the film trilogy is purely my own conjecture, based on Astier's method so far. He has not discussed its content at all, to my knowledge.  [Back]

3.   The presentation of Arthur as a bastard may well have autobiographical elements, since Astier's parents never married, though evidently he enjoyed being raised by both of them. He cast them as a married couple, Guenièvre's parents, in Kaamelott. He has said himself that Arthur's anxiety about having children reflects his own feeling when he was younger.  [Back]

4.   Arthur's marriage to Aconia Minor is peculiar: she is already married, and he himself contracts marriage with Guenièvre while married to Aconia, with Aconia's permission. Father Blaise performs both of Arthur's marriages, as well as a third ceremony, in Livre IV, in which Arthur temporarily exchanges wives with Karadoc.  [Back]

5.   Another homage to Star Wars is the appearance of Méléagant, the antagonist of Kaamelott, at the end of Livre IV: wearing a black hooded cloak, he vividly suggests the evil Emperor of Lucas's saga, and plays a similar role of seducer to the Dark Side. As "evil emperor" he complements Lancelot, who all during Livre IV has been wearing a white karate gi which recalls Luke Skywalker's typical costume.  [Back]

6.   The spelling Kaamelott is of course based on medieval spellings in the Vulgate cycle.  [Back]

7.   In a 2008 online French MSN poll, after a year's absence from the screen, Kaamelott was voted the best French series; the other nine categories on which one could vote were entirely filled with American actors, characters, and series (http://messengerawards.divertissements.fr.msn.com/, viewed June 25, 2009). At the 49th Television Festival of Monte Carlo, in June 2009, the series won a Press Prize as the best French series (after TWO years' absence from the screen!). Kaamelott is awkwardly situated with respect to the categories for the regular prizes at Monte Carlo, since it has changed format and tone since 2006.  [Back]

8.   Originally the Belgian publisher Casterman commissioned three comic books, which were published at the rate of one a year 2006–8; the series has continued at the same rate, with the fifth volume projected for publication in 2010. Just before the Livre V DVD set actually became available late in 2008, preorders made it the top-selling TV-series DVD on Amazon.fr, and as of May 13, 2009 it has been in the top 100 TV DVDs for 238 days, surpassed for longevity only by box sets of Grey's Anatomy, Lost, and Desperate Housewives. The nonfiction books Kaamelott: Au coeur du Moyen Âge (2007a) and Kaamelott: À la table du roi Arthur (2007b) by the popular historian Eric Le Nabour use Kaamelott as a context for discussing various perceptions and misperceptions about the Middle Ages; since the early Livres included a good deal of the usual Arthurian anachronism, mixing late and early medieval notions, there was plenty to clarify. Astier (2009) has also published the scripts of the Livre I and II episodes in book form. So far Astier has declined to allow promotional items or toys to be produced, except for four "Happy Meal"-style items available for a short time from Quick, a hamburger chain in France; he licensed these to please his own children (Charnay 2009).  [Back]

9.   Lancelot and Perceval appear to be virgins and to have little interest in the alternative; cf. 4.34 Les Novices, in which Lancelot declines to deflower Guenièvre, and 4.65 L'Habitué, in which Perceval hires a prostitute to listen to his fantasies about achieving the Grail to please Arthur. Karadoc considers sex to be an unpleasantness one undergoes to conceive children. Bohort is faithful to his distant wife.  [Back]

10.   This comic pattern seems to derive from the screen persona of Louis de Funes, whom Astier admires greatly (Berretta 2007).  [Back]

11.   Reportedly a working subtitle for the projected first film was "Heureux les simples d'esprit, car le Royaume des Cieux leur appartient" ("Blessed are the simple in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven"; the Beatitude is usually translated in English "Blessed are the poor in spirit"); see "Kaamleott," esp. note 63.  [Back]

12.   A peculiarity is that the cast includes Astier's parents (Léodagan and Séli), his half-brother Simon (Yvain), and Simon's mother (Ygerne). There is a strong physical resemblance between Alexandre, Simon, and Lionnel Astier, which makes it strange that Alexandre's Arthur is NOT the son of Lionnel's Léodagan. For the comic book, Stephen Dupré reportedly had to make Léodagan look fatter than he is in real life in order to distinguish him, in two dimensions, from Arthur. (The family participation does not stop here—Astier's wife, Anne-Gaëlle Daval, designs the costumes; and their children appear in some episodes—as John Boorman's children appeared in Excalibur.) Of all the characters mentioned above from Livre I, only Dagonet (Antoine de Caunes) and the Repurgateur (Élie Semoun) are played by actors whom a TV viewer might recognize from another context; most of the rest of the cast consists of theatrical actors from Lyon. From Livre IV on, Astier began to recruit more well-known actors for episodic roles.  [Back]

13.   E.g., in 2.55 La Quinte juste, Arthur uses the musical term "pédale," which can also be a slang term for a gay man, and then apologizes to Bohort, who takes no offense.  [Back]

14.   M6, the channel which carries Kaamelott, felt the need to add an interview in "édito" in which Astier explains himself to his fans.  [Back]

15.   The comic book series tends to involve supernatural elements of a non-Arthurian kind, such as an Army of the Dead and Transporter Chairs; Astier has commented that this format allows him to include "special effects" he could never afford on TV (Claes et al. 2007).  [Back]

16.   "Par exemple à la télé, si on coupe le son, à moins de tomber sur des scènes très spécifiques où c'est du slapstick, ça doit être traité comme le Seigneur des anneaux" ("For example on TV, if you mute it, unless it's specifically a slapstick scene, it should appear like the Lord of the Rings"; Claes et al. 2007).  [Back]

17.   Astier is a trained musician and composer, a graduate of the American School of Modern Music in Paris. The need for complete scores is probably one cause for the delays in the appearance of Livres V and VI.  [Back]

18.   Kaamelott is available on DVD: Kaamelott: L'intégrale, region 2. CALT and M6 vidéo. Livre I (3 DVD set), 2005; Livre II (3 DVD set), 2006; Livre III (3 DVD set), 2006; Livre IV (3 DVD set), 2007; Livre V (4 DVD set), 2008; Livre VI (4 DVD set), 2009. French edition with French subtitles; English subtitles on Livres IV-VI. There is also a North American version: Kaamelott: L'intégrale, region 1. Alliance Vivafilm. Livre I (3 DVD set), 2009; Livre II (3 DVD set), 2009; Livre III (3 DVD set), 2010; Livre IV (3 DVD set), 2010. Francophone Canadian edition with English subtitles.  [Back]


Works Cited

Astier, Alexandre. 2009. Kaamelott: texte intégral. Livre 1, épisodes 1 à 100. Paris: Télémaque.  [Back]

Astier, Alexandre. 2007. 10. Contre Kaamelott étranger. Lecture at Aix-les-Bains. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzF3Sl9e6YQ.  [Back]

Berretta, Emmanuel. 2007. Alexandre Astier, l'homme-orchestre de Kamelott. LePoint.fr. http://www.lepoint.fr/actualites-medias/2007-03-07/alexandre-astier-l-homme-orchestre-de-kamelott/1253/0/123255.  [Back]

Charnay, Amélie. 2009. C'est une cour de récré pour comédiens. 01men. http://www.01men.com/editorial/406794/serie-tele/.  [Back]

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