Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
The story of Marie Antoinette has a long cinematic history. Since 1915, nearly one hundred iterations of the former French queen have appeared on film or television, begging the question of what remains untold. With the recent popularity of alternate histories and imagined perspectives, however, new light (factual and otherwise) is consistently shed on famous figures. Such is the case with Benoît Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen, which examines Ms. Let Them Eat Cake (Diane Kruger) through the eyes of her reader, Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux).
In Paris, outraged French citizens storm the Bastille, but with news of the uprising yet to reach Versailles, the palace’s routines proceed as usual, including devoted Sidonie’s daily read-aloud for the Queen. When word does indeed make it to the aristocracy, accompanied by a pamphlet of beheadings necessary for progress, their established life crumbles in a hurry. Amid the clamor, the Queen’s romantic love for Gabrielle de Polastron (Virginie Ledoyen) reaches an urgent peak, and to ensure her flame’s protection, the Queen (and, tragically, Sidonie) will go to extraordinary lengths.
Shot largely at Versailles, Farewell, My Queen’s frames are filled with all the expected props and make-up to vividly bring 18th century France to life. But in making this world feel like more than a wax museum, Jacquot regularly employs tasteful zooms and pans that give the powdered wigs some much needed edge. These methodical, Moonrise Kingdom-like movements play at a speed just capable of drawing attention to themselves and augment the drama without overwhelming it. Such directorial touches are both welcome and unexpected considering the work’s otherwise subdued tone.
Even so, Farewell, My Queen struggles to transcend its subject’s inherent stuffiness. With no music to speak of, the film is all story, though its confined setting gives it the feel of a cozy murder mystery. As the threat of revolution stirs outside the palace walls, those within whip themselves into a frenzy. Fear of the unknown plays out in a string of tightly-scripted exchanges, but the vintage costume chatter is only so entertaining.
At least the acting is solid. There’s not a bad performance in the bunch, though everyone is merely good, not great. Seydoux’s turn even borders on very good. Her pristine young face reflects Sidonie’s range of emotions, and in the film’s heavier moments she carries herself like a seasoned pro. Surrounding her are the kind of colorful, pompous characters one might expect from the French royal court. These bit roles further the story and draw out Sidonie’s various sides, but do little to distinguish the film from its period forebears.
Comparisons to Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette are inevitable, though the two films have little in common besides the basics. Instead of rocking blue Chucks and an ‘80s soundtrack, Farewell, My Queen plays the French Revolution straight despite its somewhat risqué angle. It all results in a work both tame and expected, and as such, Jacquot’s film may as well be called Not Another Versailles Movie.
Rated R for brief graphic nudity and language.
Farewell, My Queen is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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