Farewell, My Queen B+
In “Farewell, My Queen,” a tale about the chaos that defined the court of Marie Antoinette in the final days before the outbreak of the 1789 Revolution, French director Benoit tries to reinvent the costume drama genre as we know it, by offering an interesting perspective on the personalities behind this momentous event.
Jacquot, an intelligent director who had previously made such diverse films as “A Single Girl,” “Seventh Heaven,” “Sade,”” Deep in the Woods,”” constructs a tale that captures in detail the passions, debauchery, and sexual politics of the era through the eyes of a secondary dramatic persona, Marie Antoinette’s reader, who was fascinated by and obsessed with the queen.
Based on the best-selling novel by Chantal Thomas, the film unfolds as a saga of three women, involved with each other in many different ways, including erotically and perhaps even sexually—there’s a good deal of sexual ambivalence in the relationships.
Diane Kruger (whois a star in Europe but never became on in Hollywood) gives her best performance to date as the ill-fated Queen, a woman defined by contradictions, mature in age but still childish (mourning the loss of her youth), willful and generous, needy and giving.
Virginie Ledoyen is equally good as the Queen’s “special” friend Gabrielle de Polignac. But the film belongs to Léa Seydoux, who plays one of Marie’s ladies-in-waiting, a seemingly innocent girl quietly working her way into her mistress’s special favors, until history determines her fate onto a decidedly different path. It is through her POV that we see the proceedings unfolding within a tight historical frame of four critical day, beginning July13, 1789.
With the action moving effortlessly from the gilded drawing rooms of the nobles to the back quarters of those who serve them, “Farewell, My Queen” is a period film that’s both accurate and sumptuous in its visual details while modern in its sensibility and interpretation.
Not neglecting the broader socio-political context, Jacquot depicts how in July 1789, at the dawn of the French Revolution, turmoil brews in Paris, but Versailles carries on, careless, unworried, isolated from the rest of the world, with its pomp, extravagance, leisure, laziness, and luxury.
Sidonie Laborde, the Queen’s young, carefree and devoted reader, takes advantage of the intimate moments which tie her to Marie-Antoinette, whom she admires. Like the other characters, Sidonie is unaware that she might be living out the last days of her life. Spending her days in salons, private apartments and the Petit Trianon, where she caters to her mistress’s whims, she also gets to know the other side of Versailles, its unwholesome, dangerous aspects.
Meanwhile, the long hallways spawn rumors about the Queen’s passion for the Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac. At first, the guileless Sidonie doesn’t believe the whispers, holding that nothing can happen to them at Versailles. Then the news arrives the morning of July 15 that rioters have taken the Bastille by storm. As mutinies spring up throughout the country, and the Revolution is underway, the courtiers worry about their fate.
While panic grips the nobles, Louis XVI leaves the chateau at, with only his brothers the Counts of Provence and Artois as escorts, to go to the Jeu de Paume hall. Sidonie, who has followed them, overhears the King’s speech, over applause and outcry, which serves to temporarily calm the members of the Third Estate assembled there.
But while the King is being hailed, Sidonie worries for the Queen and the malice surrounding her. Leaning on Monsieur Moreau, the king’s historiographer, for comfort and support, Sidonie watches as the halls of Versailles get empty, its ghostlike servants disappear, and terror taking over.
Armed gangs threaten to attack Versailles, and a list of heads to be cut off begins to circulate. The first name on the list is Marie-Antoinette’s. The Queen, conscious of the danger, plans her escape to Metz. Weakened, and in state of panic, Marie-Antoinette confides in Sidonie her innermost thoughts–including her unbridled love for Gabrielle de Polignac.
On July 16th, the courtiers let loose their venom, rivaling each other in hypocrisy, and finally abandoning everything to leave Versailles, as it can no longer protect them. The King’s last remaining devotees feel abandoned. Sidonie, sad that the Queen has left for Metz, is nonetheless relieved to know she is safe. But she is wrong: The Queen did not leave. That very morning she went to join the Counsel and her King, who, now a hostage of the Revolution, has decided not to leave Versailles. In front of the whole Court, a distraught Marie-Antoinette gives herself up to Gabrielle.
When Sidonie joins the two women, the Queen is still angry with the King: if he had consented to leave, they would have been saved! But if she is doomed to be prisoner here, she begs Gabrielle to leave France, hoping secretly that the latter will decline to leave. But Gabrielle de Polignac, looking out for her best deserts the Queen, leaving her inconsolable. Hiding in a corner, Sidonie is witness to her distress. But just then the King appears, obliging his spouse to uphold her rank and to attend a public luncheon he has orchestrated.
Clearly, Versailles lives out its final hours: The Revolution is inescapable. On July 17, Sidonie, summoned by the Queen, joins her at the Petit Trianon, where she discovers Gabrielle de Polignac, her husband and other courtiers amusing themselves by dressing up as peasants and servants.
Marie-Antoinette plans a trip to Switzerland in order to allow Polignacs’ escape. Gabrielle is too well-known to travel undisguised, and so will dress as a servant, while Sidonie will pretend to be her. With her unconditional love, Sidonie accepts and sees herself transformed into the Duchess of Polignac. The Queen gratifies her with a kiss on the lips, But is it a tender kiss for Sidonie, or a farewell kiss for Gabrielle?
Sidonie leaves Versailles, making her way across the countryside, waving to the glowering peasants, just as any Countess would do, basking in the warm glow of the kiss and the taste on her lips of her farewell to the Queen.
In many ways, Jackot’s “Farewell, My Queen” complements Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette,” starring Kirsten Dunst, which centers on the Queen as a young, innocent and immature girl. Opulent, lavish, dense, and admirably detailed, Jackot’s film is a superior film to Coppola’s original but ultimately failed effort.
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