Farewell, My Queen doesn't sugar-coat the French Revolution
Starring Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen, and Léa Seydoux. In French, English, German, and Italian with English subtitles. Rating not available. Opens Friday, September 7, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
In 1789, the French people wisely decided that monarchy was a parasitic growth on the body politic and acted accordingly. For this reason, French movies about the quotidian realities of autocracy tend to be less sycophantic, nostalgic, and stupid than those from certain other countries. This rule holds true even when the cameras rarely leave the citadels of power, a circumstance that fits this chamber drama like a constrictive hoop skirt.
Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) is the main character in Farewell, My Queen, although she herself would doubtless have been horrified to hear herself described this way. Official reader to Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), Sidonie more or less lives for the Austrian-born aristocrat’s slightest smile, even though those are almost exclusively reserved for Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), the queen’s capricious lover.
The action takes place during the memorable three days in July when the whole rotten Bourbon edifice fell as definitively as the Bastille itself. In this time of uncertainty, allegiances change very quickly, and what once looked like rock-solid loyalty soon reveals itself to be nothing more than self-interested careerism. Before too long, Sidonie becomes just about the only person who isn’t looking out for number one—and that isn’t necessarily to her credit.
Director Benoît Jacquot’s on-screen attentions rarely leave the palace of Versailles, his hand-held cameras and mobile microphones catching every silken sashay and honeyed whisper echoing like ghosts through the ever more endangered halls. Tellingly, even the most extreme forms of extravagance can’t prevent four-legged rats from floating in the drinking water—or two-legged ones from abandoning a clearly sinking ship of state.
Still, because of the centrality of the humbly born Sidonie, the perspective is still very Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. God bless the French Revolution.
Watch the trailer for Farewell, My Queen.