FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (Les adiex à la reine)
Cohen Media Group
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten
Director: Benoît Jacquot
Screenwriter: Gilles Taurand, Benoît Jacquot, from Chantal Thomas’s novel of historical fiction
Cast: Diane Kruger, Léa Seydoux, Virginie Ledoyen
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 6/21/12
Opens: July 13, 2012
Every schoolboy used to know that in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton, a drunken lawyer who never accomplished anything meritorious in his life, sacrificed himself to the guillotine to benefit Lucie, the unrequited love of his life, thereby allowing her to marry the aristocrat whose place he assumed on the final page of the novel. In “Farewell, My Queen,” Director Benoît, whose previous contribution, “Deep in the Woods” (a period piece about a French wanderer who pretends to be a deaf mute), now deals with a king and queen who might as well be deaf and blind. This being a French film (co-produced by Spain), nobody is mute, however. The entire story takes place over a period of three days in July of l789, when the infamous Bastille prison is stormed and members of the court at Versailles (except apparently the king) believe their lives hang by a thread. Escape is the only option, though the king delays too long and winds up, together with his sometimes sapphic wife, a victim of the national razor.
“Farewell, My Queen,” whose French title means literally “goodbyes to the queen,” is a costume drama whose real stars are Christian Gasc and Valérie Ranchoux, whose threads adorn the men and women at the Versailles palace outside Paris. However the movie is marred by a distance that Benoît Jacquot, who co-wrote the movie with Gilles Taurand, creates in showing palace intrigue and gossip on the eve of the Revolution, all from the point of view of the queen’s reader. Worse, however, is the quality of the images. A drama of this nature demands the finest quality film but what comes across is hazy, resembling a digital print or one shot largely with a handheld camera intent on extreme close-ups.
Notwithstanding these flaws, the work can be recommended for the insight it provides into the politics and living conditions of the palace, though one could argue that too much time is spent within the walls of the monarchs’ abode and could presumably be performed on a Broadway stage. The adaptation is from Chantal Thomas’s novel of historical fiction, the kind of book that should be used at least below the college level to expose youngsters to the spirit of the times rather than simply to the dry facts, however accurately presented.
With a brief moment of female frontal nudity—which earned an “R” rating for the film—there are only intimations of sexual intrigue. One involves a would-be quickie between Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), the queen’s reader, and Paolo (Vladimir Consigny), a faux Italian gondolier. Another more than hints a passion between Queen Marie-Antoinette (Diane Kruger) and an aristocrat from the court, Gabrielle de Polastron (Virginie Ledoyen).
Léa Seydoux, the 27-year-old whom we will see a lot more in the years ahead, performs in the role of a quiet and fiercely loyal servant of the queen, reading to her from the offerings of the palace library and occasionally doing embroidery. Her rapport with Marie-Antoinette evokes envy, particularly from Mme. Campan (Noemie Lvovsky), who acts as the queen’s first lady-in-waiting. But this envy must be nothing compared to that of the reader, who peeks in on the not-so-platonic relationship that her queen has with Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).
Between the readings and the subtle cuddles, the queen notes with obvious fear that her name is first on the list of the 286 people to be beheaded by the hoi polloi. She burns love letters and has servants remove and pack up her jewelry, all the while attended to obsequiously by Laborde who is eager to be considered número uno by her lady.
Though as principal performer, Sidonie Laborde shows considerable talent, she appears held back throughout by the director; unemotional, a blank slate defying the audience to figure her real self out. Among the goodies we take away is that everyone who is reading this review is probably living better than the king and queen of France, whose crib is inundated with rats and mosquitoes. And Jacquot does not even get into what they do for toilets.
Rated R. 97 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – C