Thursday, July 12, 2012

Benoît Jacquot goes royal courtside with intelligent costumer FAREWELL, MY QUEEN

Benoît Jacquot is back this year with one of his most accessible and, I suspect, main-stream art-house movies since À tout de suite. FAREWELL, MY QUEEN, which deals with the intrigues both upstairs and downstairs during the final days at the court of Louis XVI, may initially bring to mind a French-ified and much earlier version of Downton Abbey. You needn't worry: the movie soon has the Jacquot stamp all over it: that skewed view; the interest in things farther afield from those of the standard historical costume drama; the filmmaker's concern with women and what they need, feel and think; and a very modern sensibility brought to bear upon the past.

The latter two points, I think, are much at work here, and when Jacquot, shown at left, has a theme as fraught as this one -- royalty, coming to terms with the change that is afoot and understanding that its end may be near -- the tension created provides a thrust to this film that was almost entirely missing from Jacquot's earlier period-piece Adolphe but was quite present in his even earlier, and probably best film so far, Sade. (One could suggest as best his terrific rendition of the Marivaux play La fausse suivante, which, unless you've watched the French channel, TV5, over the years, you've probably not seen. Do catch it, if ever you can.)

The film concentrates on three women: Marie Antoinette (given a wonderfully rich and nuanced portrayal by the fine Diane Kruger, above); her favored lady-in-waiting (another knockout performance from Lea Seydoux, below, from Midnight in Paris and Mysteries of Lisbon),

and an especially interesting, if brief, view of one woman, played by Virginie Ledoyen (below, in green), as the Queen's lover, who seems to have taken her pleasure with many of the men and women, high and low, around the court.

How our ladies deport themselves and use each other is fascinating, sad and real, and what we learn from this film, for all its skewed view, is so much more than we got from Sofia Coppola's attempt at depicting French royalty. (Benoît's view is much more entertaining, too.)

There are also wonderful performances from a supporting cast that includes actors/directors Noémie Lvovsky and Xavier Beauvois, plus Lolita Chammah and the upcoming, gorgeous heart-throb Vladimir Consigny, as a faux Venetian gondolier whose pole is in much demand. The finale -- suspenseful, surprising, ironic and wicked -- is a wonder to behold in a number of ways.
Bravo, Jacquot!

The film, from Cohen Media Group and running 100 minutes, opens tomorrow, Friday, July 13, in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. To see all currently scheduled cities (17 of them), theaters and playdates, click here. 

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