Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mika Kaurismäki's THE GIRL KING: Queen Kristina, with her sexuality front and center

An interestingly, if not entirely successfully, imagined rendition of the early adult life of Sweden's famous Queen Kristina, crowned, according to this film at age six and ruling for around a decade from age 18 to 28, THE GIRL KING presents us with the 1600s seen very much through the lens of modern-day thought and feeling. (Queen Margot, it ain't.) As such it will expand somewhat the horizon of American viewers who manage to see it -- mostly likely those in the GLBT segment of the populace -- while giving them a relatively entertaining time at the historical bio-pic well.

The movie was written by Michel Marc Bouchard (the "English version" is credited to Linda Gaboriau) and directed with some flair and appreciation for pomp and circumstance, time and place by Mika Kaurismäki (shown at left). The costumes, especially, are quite beautiful and eye-popping, and the locations and props seem equally at home in their far-off time period. Initially, it seems as though the film will deal with its subjects -- history, feminism, sexuality and the ways of royalty -- with irony and a sense of humor (note the use of the fly in a very effective pre-title credit sequence). But then, post-title, this mostly gives way to cliché.

Still, there is a certain amount to charm and even reliability to be found in the clichés of bio-pics about distant figures of history, and the filmmakers have mined this for some effective results. In the 1933 Hollywood movie Queen Christina, Garbo played the Queen as a woman who wears mannish clothes but still falls in love with the dashing Spanish envoy to her court. Yeah, right. At least these days, we can call a spade a spade (and a lesbian a lesbian), so here, our heroine (very well limned by Malin Buska, above, right) falls in love with a countess at her court (Sarah Gadon, above, left), mostly to the detriment of all concerned. (That's Lucas Bryant, below, left, with Ms Buska, who plays one of the several male, would-be paramours of the Queen.)

When the film sticks to the politics and religions of the day, it fares much better than when it tries to probe the women's intimacy because, as conceived and written, the Countess barely exists except as a love object for Kristina. There's no "there" there, and given the empty characterization, Ms Gadon is unable to provide much in the way of specificty. This finally drags the movie down rather heavily: They're in love. We get it. So, what's new and interesting about that? The movie hasn't a clue -- except to let us know that lesbian love was frowned upon back then.

However, when Kristina's guardian (the excellent Michael Nyquist, above) and his Queen get involved in politics -- she wants to promote peace instead of war, which is an affront to most of her court -- the movie takes occasional flight. As it also does when it probes Kristina's interest in philosophy and that famous Frenchman Descartes (the two evidently met and had some interesting interactions, which may have even led to the philosopher's untimely death).

As played by the always fine Patrick Bauchau (above, right), Descartes and his ideas are a winning part of the movie. So, as depicted here, is the relationship between Kristina and her mother (played with fine ferocity by that expert German actress Martina Gedeck, below, center).

Perhaps the most interesting sections of all are provided by the "plot" to return Sweden to a Catholic country, which involves Kristina's "friend," the French Ambassador Chanut (smartly played by Hippolyte Girardot, below, right). This, as we learn from both history and the title cards just preceding the end credits, had a most interesting result.

Overall, The Girl King is worth a watch for its weaving of facts, historical figures and a pretty good pass at "what might have happened" into an entertaining, informative look at a particular part of the world as it was evolving during the mid-1600s.

From Wolfe Releasing, the film -- running 106 minutes -- opened yesterday in a very limited run at theaters in Los Angeles, Larkspur (California), San Jose and Minneapolis, and arrives on video and digital via Wolfe Video this coming Tuesday, December 8.

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