16 August 2012

Farewell, My Queen

Versailles. A young woman wakes in the servants quarters and after quickly dressing, rushes off to work. She is a reader to Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. The date is July 14, 1789, and she has no idea that the world around her is about to change.

So starts Farewell, My Queen, a new film by Benoît Jacquot. The film follows the reader, Sidonie Laborde, over the course of the next few days during which we see life inside Versailles from her point of view. Although the King makes a few appearances, the story revolves around the Queen whose close relationship with Gabrielle de Polignac has generated gossip. On Sidonie’s first morning as reader, the Queen notices her scratching her arms, which are covered in mosquito bites. Concerned, the Queen requests rose water and rubs the water onto the bites herself, winning Sidonie’s undying devotion. With news of the storming of the Bastille, the queen makes plans to flee the palace with her family. Hours are spent organizing and packing the most useless of items, illustrating how little the Queen and her courtiers understand the seriousness of the situation. The plans are abandoned though when the King refuses to leave and the Queen resigns herself to her fate. She arranges for her beloved Gabrielle to leave for Switzerland, and Sidonie’s loyalty is tested when the Queen asks her to do the ultimate favour.

The film is visually wonderful to watch. While there are golden glimpses of court opulence, the colours are often muted in greys and pale blues and the corridors cast in shadows (in one scene, the setting is completely dark). This illustrates the claustrophobic atmosphere of Versailles and lends an air of realism to the story. Behind the beautiful façade of the glittering palace there is rot. Dead rats float in the pond, servants and others low in status live in cramped, dank quarters, and gossip spreads like a disease. 

Diane Kruger is perfect as Marie Antoinette. Not only is she beautiful, she is regal enough to carry off the gorgeous costumes and wigs. Her queen is a myriad of emotions, one moment acting the frivolous girl interested in clothes, the next the concerned mother worried for her children. And how nice is it to finally have a native German speaker play Marie Antoinette (I know she was Austrian but still).

Léa Seydoux is good as Sidonie. With an often-blank expression on her face that hides her inner turmoil, she can come off as a petulant teen at times, which is probably fitting to the part. Sidonie is our eyes to the events at Versailles and even if she doesn’t always understand the importance of what she sees, the audience does.

There is a certain amount of foreboding when watching the film because the viewer knows what lies in wait for the Queen and her court. In one scene, a pamphlet is circulated that includes a list of 286 nobles and others who the people want beheaded. Some of the courtiers shake their heads with disbelief at this news but we know that for most of them, including the Queen, the people will get what they want.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...