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Set during the Regency, the brief period in the early 18th century when Philippe d’Orleans ruled France while his nephew Louis XV impatiently waited to come of age, On Guard! is half swashbuckling action flick, half winningly absurd costume comedy. It tells the overstuffed story of a foundling, Lagardere (Daniel Auteuil), raised by a pair of master fencers who take pains to train him in their art. Lagardere winds up as a sort of aide-de-camp to the dashing Duke of Nevers (Vincent Perez), and then, as the years speed by, brings up the duke’s daughter Aurore (Marie Gillain) as his own after Nevers is stabbed in the back by his evil cousin Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini). Lagardere and the girl eventually return to court, where he’s forced into an extended charade as a hunchback to gain access to the power he needs to exact predictably sweet revenge on the dastardly Gonzague. As you might have gathered, Philippe de Broca’s 28th directorial outing is a bit hard to follow at times, especially if your knowledge of French history needs dusting off. But it’s charming and highly entertaining nonetheless: A genius juggler, de Broca manages to keep all 950 plotlines in the air simultaneously without apparent strain. Somehow, the screenplay, adapted by the director and Jean Cosmos from a popular 19th-century French serial, has a rationale at the ready for every seemingly ludicrous plot twist. (To pick but one example: Lagardere takes so quickly to impersonating a hunchback because, it turns out, he traveled for years with a French-Italian theatrical troupe.) And like a Hong Kong action movie, On Guard! quickly and relentlessly ups the ante in its fight scenes, so that before even a half-hour has passed, Lagardere is forced to fend off wave after wave of attackers with one hand while cradling the infant Aurore in the other. The movie even has time to cram in a moral-philosophical dilemma for Lagardere: whether, having informed the stunningly beautiful Aurore that he’s not her real father, it’s OK to go to bed with her. —Christopher Hawthorne