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By Michael Dequina | April 26, 2002

The princess (Mira Sorvino) of an unnamed kingdom has fallen head over heels for her supposed enemy Agis (Jay Rodan), the son of the king the princess’ father overthrew. She wants nothing more than to declare her love for him–and, as proof, abdicate the throne to him–but standing in her way are Agis’ protectors, the stern philosopher Hermocrates (Ben Kingsley) and his spinster sister Leontine (Fiona Shaw), who have not only conditioned Agis to hate the princess but also to not believe in love. What’s a poor, besotted princess to do? Why, what anyone else would do–disguise herself as a man to win over Hermocrates and Agis through their minds and Leontine through her heart.
And so ensues cross-dressing-caused confusion and comedy as only an 18th century theater farce would play out–meaning suspension of disbelief is very much required, particularly whenever the very feminine Sorvino is supposed to be taken for a man. But neither that conceit nor the period setting give “The Triumph of Love” a certain distancing effect; it’s Clare Peploe’s stagy direction. Despite being shot on location at a beautiful Italian villa and its lush surrounding grounds, the action feels confined and claustrophobic, a fact not helped by Peploe’s curious and distracting decision to occasionally insert shots of an audience watching the goings-on.
But if Peploe seems strangely intent on keeping the viewers at the cinema at an arm’s length, the actors do their best to bridge that gap, and ultimately it is they who prevail. That Sorvino is quite unconvincing as a man is beside the point; her sincerity, enthusiasm, and comic timing provide ample explanation as to why all the other characters so easily fall for hers. Kingsley obviously has a lot of fun sending up his Serious Actor image as the comically pompous Hermocrates, and Shaw is hilarious and touching as the affection-starved Leontine. The weak link is pretty boy Rodan, but considering the role requires him to do little more than look good and bare his buttocks, his casting is not too much of a problem. “The Triumph of Love” is, indeed, a triumph of love: love of performance, love of joy, and, above all else, love of love itself.

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