Adventure films and vibrant comedies were Philippe De Broca's specialty. Here Chouans! is to be pigeonholed in the first category. Set during a climactic moment in French history just after the French Revolution, it deals with two sons of a count (Philippe Noiret) who fight against each other. The first one is a partisan of the freshly new republic (Lambert Wilson) and wants to repel any rebellion against this new political scheme. The second one is on the aristocrats' side. Both also fight for the woman they love (Sophie Marceau). The squire who didn't want to be mingled with the political changes and the social turmoil that spreads in the country will fatally be caught up by the impending turn of events.
If several steps of the story may seem rough to you in their linking, blame it on a butchered editing. The original film clocked in at 4 hours but for evident commercial reasons, it was curtailed of one hour and a half. Hence a rough editing that gives a rather checkered film whose appeal is depleted. It's difficult sometimes to jump from one moment to another without any clear explanation or preparation to it like for instance when Wilson kills Marceau. This sequence comes at the most awkward moment and it's a little hard to swallow it.
But De Broca kept worthwhile elements. Lyricism that shrouds the film can be felt here, there and everywhere. Aesthetically, it's a refined piece of work with a clean cinematography, lavish costumes and lush scenery. Characters are highly well described, notably Philippe Noiret, a lucid, good-hearted earl who has faith in science. His witty cues command admiration. And one can admire the contrast between the high hopes following the birth of the Republic and the ruthless, violent means employed by its leaders, notably Lambert Wilson to suppress any rebellion, mostly from aristocrats.
Without this ill-fated editing, De Broca's piece of work could have taken its place in the restrained circle of the great French epics. It's acceptable stuff all the same but the filmmaker's finest films are chronologically behind him: Cartouche (1962), L'Homme De Rio (1964) or Les Tribulations d'Un Chinois en Chine (1965).
Source : IMDb