In keeping with the political crisis lashing out at the world, French veteran Benoît Jacquot's latest film tells the story of the last days of the French monarchy through the eyes of one of the "little" people. In the days surrounding the July 1789 fall of the Bastille, Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), reader to the infamous Marie-Antoinette (Diane Kruger), lends her eyes and ears to the viewer as she runs through the hallways of Versailles witnessing the apocalypse of the upper classes. However, Sidonie is not quite one of the "little people": her secluded life of effective servitude raises her above the people, but her proximity to the aristocracy is not enough to make her one of them.

     What she is, though, is madly in love with her mistress: understanding of what she perceives as the queen's misery, a pretty bird locked in a gilded cage without much opportunity to spread her wings - or maybe even without much desire - but also madly in lust with her polished, beautiful perfection. This leads Sidonie, who would do - and indeed does - anything for Marie-Antoinette, to see current queen's favourite Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) as a dangerous rival, but also makes her painfully aware of her secondary status in the wasps' nest that is Versailles: disenchanted with being little more than a pet or an heirloom, someone to be used on a whim then discarded without further thought, and exalted by being in such closeness to these glamorous but ultimately feckless courtiers.

     Gloriously shot by Mr. Jacquot and his cinematographer Romain Winding as a classically refined period piece in the manner of Upstairs Downstairs or countless others tales of masters and servants, Farewell My Queen does not pretend to be a strictly historical piece, nor does it hide its origins as a novel. What Mr. Jacquot is after is in fact something else: a slyly subversive exploration of female desire and attraction, channeling mystery, sexuality and surprise through Ms. Seydoux's delicately defying performance and the director's attention to his cast's faces and to the characters' spatial settings that define so much of who they are.

Cast: Léa Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen, Xavier Beauvois, Noémie Lvovsky, Michel Robin, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Lolita Chammah, Vladimir Consigny, Marthe Caufman

Director: Benoît Jacquot
Screenplay: Gilles Taurand, Mr. Jacquot, from the novel Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas
Cinematography: Romain Winding (colour, widescreen)
Music: Bruno Coulais
Designer: Katia Wyzskop
Costumes: Christian Gasc
Editors: Luc Barnier, Nelly Ollivault
Producers: Jean-Pierre Guérin, Kristina Larsen, Pedro Uriol (GMT Productions, Les Films du Lendemain, Morena Films, France 3 Cinéma, Euro Media France, Invest Image)
France/Spain, 2012, 99 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Medeia Monumental 2 (Lisbon), September 20th 2012


Popular Posts