[Review] – Farewell, My Queen

10 Aug

Title: Farewell, My Queen
Year: 2012
Director: Benoît Jacquot
Writers: Benoît Jacquot and Gilles Taurand, based on the novel by Chantal Thomas
Starring: Diane Kruger, Léa Seydoux, Virginie Ledoyen
MPAA Rating: R, brief graphic nudity and language
Runtime: 100 min
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Metacritic: 66

Farewell, My Queen is a French film that focusses on the last days Marie Antoinette spent in power before the Revolution really broke out in full force. It shows everything that went on in her chaotic Court, the good, the bad, and the ugly, in the eve of the Revolution, when they lived totally unbothered by all that was going on in Paris. When the storming of the Bastille took place, however, people, aristocrats and servants alike, knew that something dire was about to go down, and they deserted the Palace and the Royal Family.

The fictional account of those last final days of Marie Antoinette is seen through the eyes of Sidonie Laborde, a young servant who read to the Queen and who refused to flee the Palace, thinking that there was nowhere safer for her to be than right there, blinded herself just as Marie Antoinette was. Fortunately for us viewers, Sidonie is played by Léa Seydoux, who you may remember having a small role in Inglourious Basterds and who you should remember wowing us last year with her turn in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and Marie Antoinette is played by Diane Kruger, who you also know from Inglourious Basterds, in which she gave a great performance as Bridget von Hammersmark. These two actresses do more than enough to make this film compelling.

I really liked what I got from this film. I liked it because, well, in the first place because I’m a sucker for period pieces, but I also really appreciated how effortlessly the movement from the reality of nobles to that of the servants was, how it had that upstairs, downstairs kind of feel to it as it explored some emotions that have just as much impact today as they did back then. I also liked that we got it all from Sidonie’s perspective, with her living in those lowly quarters with the rest of the servants, but at the same time getting to serve the Queen intimately, she got herself in her favors, so she was one of those people that really got to experience both sides of the coin.

We’ve seen a film about Marie Antoinette before, of course, the one directed by Sofia Coppola which I would no doubt call one of the most underrated films of that past ten years, but this is obviously a much more straightforward kind of film in terms of style and how it’s all done. What they do share, though, is their depiction of the Queen as this girl who’s been shielded from everything all of her life and thus can’t really grasp the alarming reality that is coming down upon her with such force, and as such was unable to really do anything at all to prevent her downfall, because all of her life she was raised to believe that such an occurrence could really never come to be.

So we’re right there at Versailles when the rumor of the storming of the Bastille starts spreading, and that’s one thing that you have to note, that it was just a rumor, one that found its way from the mouth of one servant to the ear of the next, and not something that was publicly acknowledge, and certainly not something that they made plans to contest. But Sidonie’s loyalty never wavers, she’s entranced and kind of seduced by the Queen, even though Marie Antoinette herself is entranced by Gabrielle de Polignac, with whom she’s said to have spent the night before we meet her and whom this film portraits as a lover of sorts to the Queen.

It’s cool that we get this fictional character of Sidonie to live all of these things through. After all, the facts of this particular story are ones we know all to well because of the weight and effect they have had on our history, so this puts an interesting new spin on things. We are, after all, limited to the things that Sidonie knows and to her understanding of those things as far as how the story starts shaping up. And it’s great to see how that takes place in this particular circumstance, even if the servants in Versailles were shielded from news that were happening so far away, they were quick to pick up on changes of attitude from those higher than them in the food chain, and rumors had a way of spreading like crazy.

The movie behaves like the costume drama you might expect it to be, and that’s good because it gives us a good look at both sides of the Palace. Yes, it would have been nicer if it did a bit more than just suggest that super complex love triangle between three women at that time, but even if it only scratches the surface of it, it still provides a neat emotional backdrop. But what we get at the end, when the collapse is iminent and people know it and start showing their true colors is what I think made this film something that’s better than average, it’s worth the payoff and it’s what made me like so much what Ms. Seydoux did with her character.

Farewell, My Queen is a fine movie, director Benoît Jacquot does a fine job at showing both sides of a very specific reality in a very specific point in time, and it works. It works because of what he does as a director, and how he knows where to put the cameras and what to show us, giving it a slightly erotic tinge at times that really works. And it works because Ms. Kruger and Ms. Seydoux must be congratulated for what they did with these roles. This is also the 600th film I’ve seen and reviewed in the two years and seven months I’ve been doing this, so I guess I’ll have that extra reason to remember this one for.

Grade: B+

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