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Joaquin Phoenix's 'Napoleon' film an 'absolute catastrophe,' says former French president's son

Louis Sarkozy, son of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has written a book, “Napoleon’s Library," about the French emperor's love for the written word.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power and eventual downfall seems perfect for the big screen, but Louis Sarkozy is still waiting for that film to be made.

Filmmaker Ridley Scott has attempted to take on the historical drama with Joaquin Phoenix starring as the infamous French emperor. Despite delivering a two-hour, 38-minute spectacle with bloody battles, Sarkozy insisted the movie was a major bust.

The 26-year-old son of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a passionate Napoleon history enthusiast. He recently wrote a book, "Napoleon’s Library," which explores the political leader’s love of the written word. He’s adamant that Scott "has captured neither the man nor the era in this film," making it "his most sublime failure."

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"It’s an absolute catastrophe," Sarkozy told Fox News Digital. "I’ve been pleading for … a big Napoleonic biopic, a big historical epic on his life for a decade or more. … I just thought that the subject would lend itself so well to cinema. [But] it’s just a bad movie. 

"If I were not such a Napoleonic fan or an avid reader of the period … it would’ve just been a bad movie. But since my expectations were so great, and I’m also a huge fan of Ridley Scott and his prior productions, and also a big fan of Joaquin Phoenix. … It’s a catastrophe because it’s a bad movie." 

Sarkozy isn’t alone in his sentiments. Following the film’s world premiere in Paris Nov. 14, numerous French critics labeled it lazy, boring and even "migraine-inducing." Le Figaro labeled "Napoleon" as "Barbie and Ken under the Empire."

Several French historians also slammed "Napoleon," noting it’s historically inaccurate. And even those who detest the French legend expressed outrage over a film starring an American actor directed by a British filmmaker.

In response to the backlash, Scott, 85, told BBC News, "The French don’t even like themselves. The audience that I showed it to in Paris, they loved it."

Scott also told The New Yorker to "get a life" after a TikTok video fact-checking scenes from the film went viral.

"When I have issues with historians, I ask, ‘Excuse me, mate, were you there? No? Well, shut the f--- up then,’" Scott told The Sunday Times.

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Sarkozy acknowledged that when it comes to Hollywood, anything goes, which is all the more reason, he said, Scott could have done a better job.

"I’m quite ready to lend artistic license to directors," Sarkozy explained. "Ridley Scott said, I think quite rightly so, if you want to learn about Napoleon, you pick up a book or you [watch] a documentary. I don’t think anybody should get their history from Hollywood.

"[But] I thought it was a bad movie because it was a bad movie. I thought the dialogues were very poorly written, not at all engaging. I thought there were no secondary characters. … My God, there were grievous mistakes every five minutes. … I don’t know what filter they put on that movie. If there’s one thing about the period, especially when it comes to the military aspect of things, it’s the color.

"The uniforms [at the time] were so bright," Sarkozy continued. "This was a period when you went to war, you dressed in the best clothes. You had to be as resplendent and as beautiful as you could be. I thought none of that was translated into the movie. I thought the music was pretty poor. I thought [the film] was terribly vulgar. [There were] four or five sex scenes. It was insane.

"It was just bad taste. And I thought the battles were pretty bad. … We have people on record saying that soldiers died of heart attacks just by watching these things get at them. You’re talking about a thousand horsemen in uniform charging, shoulder to shoulder. … It was a failure."

Scott is no stranger to sweeping, epic storytelling. His 2000 film, "Gladiator," starred an Oscar-nominated Phoenix as the Roman emperor Commodus. Backed by Apple, "Napoleon" cost a reported $200M to make.

"You give me $180M, and I’ll do a better job than Scott," Sarkozy scoffed.

While some may think a more historically accurate biopic would be too stuffy and boring for theaters, Sarkozy noted there are many elements about Napoleon’s life worth exploring.

And the interest — along with the budget — is there. A faded and cracked felt bicorne hat worn by Bonaparte sold in late November for $2.1 million. It’s one of a handful still in existence that Bonaparte wore when he ruled 19th-century France and waged war in Europe. It was initially valued at $650,000 to $870,000.

"[Bonaparte] was very weird," Sarkozy explained about the controversial French ruler. "He had no idea how to behave in social situations. When he talked to people, he stood too close to them. He didn’t know how to talk to other human beings. Very awkward around women. Probably had no friends. … He loved [his wife} Josephine, at least at first. But once she breaks his heart and cheats on him, [he] probably never loves anything else.

"He was very insufferable in a way," Sarkozy continued. "He was horrible to work under. He drove one of his librarians to just complete depression, a mental breakdown. … He was a great lover of romances. … This is something I cover quite extensively in my book. Sometimes he would be commanding a battle, and you would have tens of thousands of casualties ... [but] at night, he goes to his tent, and he’s reading this love story about a young Swiss noblewoman falling in love with her tutor. And he’s like, ‘This is the best book I’ve ever read.’"

Sarkozy described Bonaparte as a "weird" character with large grey eyes who "bombarded" people with questions. He was also an "obsessive" letter writer.

"At some point during his reign, he averaged over 19 letters a day, which is insane, even for the period," Sarkozy explained. "We have over 40,000 surviving letters of his. I own three of the letters. One of the letters was written to Josephine’s son, and it was one of six letters he sent that day. He drove his collaborators mad with his obsessive micromanaging. 

"He also wrote very badly – his handwriting I mean. On many occasions when he wrote down something … he was unable to decipher what he had just written moments prior. He also spoke very broken French. Foreign diplomats were shocked to hear the French monarch speak such broken French … with a very thick accent, constantly mispronouncing his words."

If it’s a spectacle of a battle viewers seek, Bonaparte’s life has plenty. Sarkozy compared the Battle of Borodino to "a fully packed 787 jumbo jet crashing, killing everyone on board every five minutes for 10 hours." And that was just one war.

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Despite mixed reviews, "Napoleon" wasn’t a box office failure. It debuted at $78.8 million, including $46.3 million internationally, Variety reported. According to the outlet, "Napoleon" brought in $33.1 million domestically in its first five days of release, landing in second place behind "The Hunger Games" prequel, "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes."

Sarkozy is hopeful that someday Bonaparte will conquer Hollywood the right way.

"This is the most exciting story of all time," he said. "It’s meant for the movie theater. It’s meant for TV shows. There’s a reason why this has excited so many people over centuries to write about it, to talk about it."

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