Farewell, My Queen: Interview with Benoit Jacquot
Farewell, My Queen, about the final days of Marie Antoinette, Opened July 20, 2012
Discovering Chantal Thomas’ Book?
It was back in 2002, during a round-table discussion that we were having for “Adolphe.” At the time, editor Antoine de Baccque was heading up the culture section at Liberation. He brought Isabelle Adjani, Chantal Thomas and myself together to discuss the problems of literary adaptations. Prior to the meeting, he gave us all a copy of Chantal Thomas’s book “Farewell, My Queen” which had just won the Femina Book Award. As soon as I read it, I knew that I wanted to make it into a film.
Why did you wait so long?
At the time, I realized that it was almost impossible to try and put together a project of this scale. “Farewell, My Queen” is a historical drama set at Versailles and therefore very expensive to make. I didn’t know any producers willing to put together the necessary funds for such a project. I dismissed it from my mind. Then, when Jean-Pierre Guerin bought the rights, he asked me to do an adaptation. I was still as keen on the project.
Of your 20 films, 10 are adaptations.
I am a big reader, but I chose to be a filmmaker and not a writer–a conscious decision on my part. Naturally books will always play an important role in my film projects.
The fall of the monarchy, July 14-16. The entire story is told through the eyes of a young girl, Sidonie Laborde, one of the Queen’s readers at Versailles.
She sits at the center of the story. She is the constant presence in the film. I wanted the viewer to feel exactly what she experiences as the events unfold. I also wanted the spectator to be totally immersed in life at Versailles on her level, to have the same doubts and intimacies. Sidonie is so close to events that she is not able to understand everything that is happening around her. By definition, when you are living in the present moment, you do not have a perspective on what you are experiencing. Sharing her understanding of events with the spectator was a way to make the film as vibrant as possible, and avoid the need for any retrospection.
Sidonie, the reader, played by Léa Seydoux, is younger than the book’s original character.
From the outset, Gilles Taurand and I wanted the reader’s point of view to be one of a very young woman, unlike the book where she is much older. We thought it was interesting as she still has a close link to childhood, and therefore the narrative of the film does not have to use flashbacks, as in the book. Chantal Thomas’s narrative was robust enough for us to be able to make certain changes without altering the tone. From the moment we took that decision, adapting the book became very straight-forward: all that was left to do was to leave aside certain scenes, disregard some of the characters and either shorten or condense certain passages to heighten the drama. That really is the key to this kind of project: to put aside aspects of the book in order to discover its essence.
The film’s “unity of time”
I like the idea of films playing with the notion of time. For example, I find it interesting to compress time and recount a whole lifetime in an hour and a half. Or, work in real time and recount an hour and a half in an hour and a half; this is something I have already experimented with.
The four-day period depict the collapse of the nobility living at Versailles
This story is a bit like the Titanic! Where a ship that is considered the most beautiful construction in the world starts taking on water and then sinking, setting off a huge wave of panic. The situation obviously creates mixed reactions: people come closer together, relationships form or, the opposite, they fall apart. Over the four days, the main characters are in a continual state of disarray. Over this short period of time, and in the same confined space (we do not leave Versailles until right at the end of the film), the characters experience different states of mind, swinging between one emotion and the next.
They are cut off from the outside world, unable to get clear picture of what’s going on in Paris.
They live shut away. But in such a vast place that we get the impression that it is a world of its own-like a country, with its own borders. In fact, those who lived at Versailles called it “that country”. They are confined, which is of course ironic. In this closed world, I tried to show how information both succeeded and failed to circulate. And it’s very strange: the information from the outside comes in the form of a rumor, like a foreign body invading. It starts to show in little ways, or is mentioned in passing, in people’s behavior and thoughts over these four days.
Ironically, when a group of them leave Versailles, their world gets even smaller again
They escape in a stagecoach that the camera never exits. Once outside the castle gates, it is as if they are confined yet again.
Versailles is shown in a state of filth
In his “memoirs”, Saint Simon brilliantly described the stench of the latrines at Versailles. A stench that came from behind the most beautiful wood paneling, gilding and chandeliers in the world. Something revolting, rotting and putrid. As if the state of the building at Versailles was a metaphor for the collapse of the regime.
Sidonie is besotted with Marie-Antoinette, who is infatuated with the Duchess of Polignac. The events unfold against troubled relationships
Sidonie is literally madly in love with the queen! I was really interested in the child-like infatuation “perverse” relationship between the Queen and the Duchess of Polignac. This love triangle electrifies the film.
Sidonie’s love is discreet.
It is less obviously sexual than the relationship between the Queen and Polignac. Except the Queen herself, maintains a sexual ambiguity with Sidonie. She enthuses over her chubby arms, and rubs her to soothe a mosquito bite. Like a wild creature, Marie-Antoinette loves everything carnal. At the end of the film, when she asks Sidonie to undress so as to take Polignac’s place, it is as if the love triangle is now complete. I felt it was very important, that at a certain point in the film, two of the three women should appear naked, stripped of the heavily corseted dresses they wore and that played such an important part in their everyday lives. Two out of three, but not the Queen. The Queen never shows herself, she gives the order for one of the others to instead.
Léa Seydoux is exceptional, very physical and very modern.
Léa lives in jeans. I wanted her to wear the dresses of the period that were very complex to put on, in the same causal way she would wear a pair of jeans. Yet I did want her to be aware of the constraints of these dresses. I wanted her to understand XVIII Century costumes, and to live with it. Yes, she is amazing.
Diane Kruger is remarkable as Marie-Antoinette.
She has the same background as Marie-Antoinette and is exactly the right age for the part. The role of Marie-Antoinette was made for her, she was the obvious choice. As an actress, she is the complete opposite of Léa. Diane is meticulous, focused, deep down she is very Anglo-Saxon, whereas Léa is more animal-like, instinctive, blowing hot and cold. Bringing the two of them together was very exciting.
The film is about the lesser-known sides of Marie-Antoinette’s personality.
It is as if, in the center of the picture, the queen bee starts, for whatever reason, to upset the equilibrium and her agitation spreads throughout the hive. The accelerated events over these four days show all the different phases Marie-Antoinette went through in her life- the period of innocence, then of frivolity, then near debauchery ending with a period of great decorum. They are all mixed together. Without warning, she moves from extreme frivolity to a state of incredible lucidity, to great despondency, like the weather. I love that. On set, when I’m giving instructions to the actors almost all my references are weather-related “Like the sun breaking through the clouds, the sun goes in, day, night.” Different weather for different moods…
Shooting the film
The fact that I film quickly means that I have to leave the actors free. The limitations of speed are such that there is only time to frame the shot, enabling us to achieve certain realism. I don’t really believe in rehearsals.
For Farewell, My Queen we just booked a few days with Léa, Diane and Noemie Lvovsky who plays Madame Campan, to read the script and basically agree on what they could and could not say. This was particularly important for Diane as French is not her first language so we wanted to be sure about certain pronunciation and emphasis. I did not have to say anything to Virginie Ledoyen, I know her so well, there was no point.
Women in your films are very young
I’d say it was about fifty-fifty. I have done five films with Isabelle Huppert. She was 25 when I first met her and we have worked together ever since. I love women when they just start becoming women, when they have just past the stage of being young girls. I believe this moment is special and important.
Xavier Beauvois, Jacques Nolot, Marie-Julie Parmentier
A film’s cast is essential. I do agree that, in this case, the cast is particularly distinguished. But it was vital that Léa, who is in the film right from the very first scene through to the last, be well supported. She needed to be surrounded by actors and actresses whom she admired and also who would set high standards.
I wanted the lighting to be both very sophisticated and very dramatic. I had already worked on another idea similar to this with DP Romain Winding.
The set design
Each set was conceived by considering once piece of furniture at a time, after meticulous planning and plenty of discussion. Previously, on other period dramas, I arrived on location and barely changed a thing. But for this film, everything was worked out beforehand. Take the golden cabinet, for example. It is night. A fire is lit and Marie-Antoinette is burning some letters. The fire lights up everything. What could we use so that the light from the fire would contribute a nocturnal ambiance to the scene? Since this place was called the golden cabinet, set designer Katia Wyszkop came up with the idea of making large gold screens. They add a warm, golden glow but they also
add a disturbing decadence too.
Shooting at Versailles
We filmed there as much as we could i.e. every Monday and every night. The people running Versailles were very welcoming and made things as simple as they possibly could for us. Few films are made at Versailles because filming there costs a great deal, which puts a lot of people off. You have to be sure, which is the case in this film, that Versailles really is one of the main characters. Saying this, we did also film in other chateaux. It’s actually quite funny trying to work out where each scene was shot, whether it was at the real Versailles or at one of the pretend Versailles.
Three mainly. The Queen’s bedroom in The Petit Trianon was recreated in Maison Lafitte. It would have been impossible to film in the original room, which was too small to fit a camera. So we had to rethink it. However, the hallway and the staircase leading to he room as well as the entrance to the Petit Trianon and its immediate surrounding were all filmed at The Petit Trianon.
We also filmed at the Chateau de Chantilly. This is where we shot the long galleries that the nobles can be seen walking through once they leave their own grotty apartments.
Big budget film, yet light and modern
That’s something very important for me. When I make a period drama, I always try very hard not to make it look false, like an exhibition of beautiful antiques. Of course, that staged approach can be very beautiful, there are some wonderful films, take Visconti’s films for example or Kubrick’s Barry Lindon these are fabulous “antiques”! But that’s not my thing. I want people to think this is it, this is how it is, and that’s all there is to it.
Benoit Jacqot Filmography
2010 Au fonds des bois (Deep in the Woods)
2009 Villa Amalia
2004 À tout de suite
2000 La Fausse suivante
1999 Pas de scandale
1998 Par coeur
1998 L’École de la chair (The School of Flesh)
1997 Le Septième ciel (Seventh Heaven)
1995 La Fille seule (A Single Girl)
1994 3000 scénarios contre un virus
1993 La Mort du jeune aviateur anglais
1990 La Désenchantée (The Disenchanted)
1988 Les Mendiants
1986 Corps et biens
1981 Les Ailes de la colombe (Wings of the Dove)
1977 Les Enfants du placard
1976 L’Assassin musicien (The Musician Killer)
Leave a Reply
- Nicole Kidman: Jury Member in 2013 Cannes Fest
- Anchorman 2 Teaser
- Fast & Furious 6: London, Glasgow, Liverpool
- Fast & Furious 6: Vehicular Warfare:
- Fast && Furious 6: Stunts
- Fast & Furious 6: The Newcomers
- Fast & Furious 6: Family Reunion
- Cannes 2013: Gunshots Heard; Christoph Waltz Rushed Off Stage
- Cannes 2013: Weinstein Presents Oscar Hopefuls
- Angelina Jolie Double Mastectomy–Talk of Cannes Film Fest
- Cannes Fest 2013: Jerry Lewis Double Bill
- Behind the Candelabra: Michael Douglas on Liberace