FAREWELL MY QUEEN
In July 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, those living at the Court of Versailles continue to lead carefree, uninhibited lives, far from the growing unrest in Paris. When news of the assault on the Bastille reaches them, the nobles flee - along with their servants, deserting the palace and the Royal family. But Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), a young reader of the Court who is devoted to the Queen (Diane Kruger), refuses to believe the rumours. She is certain that under Marie-Antoinette's protection she will come to no harm. Little does she know that these will be the last three days she will spend at her queen's side.
Review by Louise Keller:
Visually sumptuous, this French Spanish co-production about the last days of Marie Antoinette is a far cry from Sofia Coppola's 2006 lollypop version, with its authentic and dramatic air and its unique perspective from one of the Queen's readers. The royal crush that Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) has for her Queen is the springboard for the story, while the prominence of the film's lesbian theme is also a surprise as we peek through the windows of the downstairs maids into the world of opulence at Versailles at the beginning of the French Revolution.
In his adaptation of Chantal Thomas's novel, director Benoît Jacquot has instilled an almost stifling essence of the times, giving us an insight (his) into the excessive royal lifestyle from a tenable base. While the film offers a fascinating voyeuristic glimpse into the surrounds of its lavish settings and splendid costumes, we are always kept at arm's length and as a result our connection is never complete. The fault does not lie with the actors and the two key scenes in which Seydoux and Virginie Ledoyen (as Marie Antoinette's lesbian lover, Duchesse Gabrielle de Polignac) appear naked, their physical state should have transmitted more than that of objects of desire.
Remember Seydoux: she played the lovely French girl who befriends Owen Wilson in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris? Here, her performance as the secretive royal reader who is skilled at delicate embroidery is akin to that of Scarlett Johansson in The Girl with the Pearl Earring, the tight close ups on her expressive face equally effective. Diane Kruger is perfectly cast as the glamorous Marie Antoinette, who we meet mostly in her chambers. The scene when her wig is removed after bidding farewell to Gabrielle, when alone, is poignant in that she is trapped in wealth, yet has lost everything. Ledoyen is regal and convincing as Gabrielle. Louis XVI (Xavier Beauvois) is hardly seen; most memorable is his surprise at anyone seeking power, referring to it as being a curse.
The advent of the three days following the storming of the Bastille (July 14 - 17, 1789) brings a taste of the confusion as the list on which the names of the 286 aristocrats whose heads are sought, is circulated but the fear is never properly transmitted and the distance between the action within the walls at Versailles and those of the rebels in the streets of Paris is too great. Production elements however, are superb.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) reads books and plays to the Queen (Diane Kruger) and is a loyal, devoted servant; she is in some sort of reverential love with the Austrian born Marie Antoinette, and her devotion is the vehicle for the adaptation from the Chantal Thomas novel. Sidonie will do anything for her: even risk her life if required. The fact that Marie Antoinette returns this devotion with that very request is the film's most interesting element, although it plays a small part.
The element to which more attention is paid is Marie Antoinette's scandalous lesbian relationship with Duchesse Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), which ultimately drives that potentially deadly request. How much of this is true, we don't know, but it works for the film's internal coherence.
With the exception of a short and strange little scene at the beginning which seems to show Parisian rioters being herded by armed soldiers, the film takes place entirely at Versailles, in the sumptuous state rooms and bedchambers, and in the servants' simple quarters. Set over the four historic days of July 14, 15, 16 and 17, 1789, it is focused and we feel as isolated from what's happening in Paris as does the Royal Court. While this serves the purpose of showing a disconnect between the two worlds, it also denies us the visceral connection to the eruptions of the revolution.
Diane Kruger plays the 33 year old Queen with muted histrionics and is portrayed as neither a spoilt brat nor a caring monarch. This doesn't result in even handedness but in blandness. History paints Marie Antoinette in various character guises, from a high spending hedonist to a frivolous collector of (expensive) bling and shoes, while some scholars seem to think she deserves a more sympathetic portrait. This film goes some way towards that, but it still fails to show why Sidonie is so devoted to her.
Performances are all terrific, notably Seydoux as the reader, Noémie Lvovsky as the Queen's PA, Madame Campan and Ledoyen as the youthful, beautiful but ultimately self-serving Gabrielle.
We see very little of the men, including Louis XVI (Xavier Beauvois), who is portrayed more as a kindly uncle who has a date with the 'people' who want not just bread but power. He considers that to be foolish: power, he muses, is not something one would seek out on purpose (or words to that effect). We do spend a bit more time with the archivist of Versailles, the wise and elderly M. Moreau, superbly played by Michel Robin.
The period artefacts - from costumes to all the mise en scene - and the subject matter combine with the underscore to create a mood of melancholy and the film is beautifully lit and shot. But there's something missing in the telling and its often disjointed structure mitigates against the emotional satisfaction we are seeking, given the enormous drama of the moment.
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FAREWELL MY QUEEN (M)
Les adieux à la reine
CAST: Léa Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen, Noémie Lvovsky, Xavier Beauvois, Michel Robin, Anne Benoit
PRODUCER: Jean-Pierre Guerin, Kristina Larsen, Pedro Uriol
DIRECTOR: Benoit Jacquot
SCRIPT: Benoit Jacquot, Gilles Taurand (novel by Chantal Thomas)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Romain Winding
EDITOR: Luc Barnier, Nelly Ollivault
MUSIC: Bruno Coulais
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Katia Wyszkop
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 6, 2013
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