Why is it so hard to make a good movie about Marie Antoinette? True, there is a 1938 Norma Shearer film based on the French queen that I have yet to see, but have heard good things. For the most part, though, the movies about the famous historical figure, namely Sofia Coppola's 2006 version, are self-indulgent slogs.
"Farewell, My Queen" is not nearly as self-obsessed or dull as Coppola's take. That being said, the film still falls into several of the same traps, namely focusing more on the lavish, lively settings and cinematography than the characters inhabiting them. It's certainly a very pretty movie, but that's about it.
The film starts as the reign of France's Louis XVI nears its dramatic end. Versailles, including the poor, loyal workers and maids as well as the rich aristocrats, attempts to feign normalcy while the poor commoners outside become more viciously unsatisfied with their leaders. After the off-screen storming of the Bastille, however, the entire palace is thrown off-kilter as the news and the ensuing panic spreads.
Caught in the middle of the chaos is Sidonie (Léa Seydoux, the icy, villainous blonde from "MI:4"), Marie Antoinette's personal reader. While the other maids flee, Sidonie stays out of loyalty, as well as her romantic feelings toward the queen. Unfortunately, the unpredictable Marie Antoinette ("Inglourious Basterds"' Diane Kruger) is distracted with preserving her own safety, as well as the safety of her not-so-secret lover, Gabrielle de Polastron, the duchess of Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).
Director Benoît Jacquot fills every frame of "Farewell, My Queen" with incredible detail. Of course, the shots involving the fabulous luxuries and wealth of Versailles are lusciously filmed, but even sequences taking place in the workers' quarters are beautiful. The dark, candle-lit room of Louis XVI's historian and Sidonie's wise old friend (Michel Robin) provide some of the film's most sumptuous moments.
Not every image is filled with beauty, however. In fact, some of the earlier sequences do an elegant job of showing the contrast between the wildly wealthy and tragically poor, and the poverty slowly seeping into Versailles. A shot near the beginning moves from a mass of brown, dirty commoners over to a proud band of marching soldiers. A pleasant boat ride is briefly interrupted by a dead rat floating in the water.
Jacquot camera movements bring a surprisingly fresh feel to the proceedings. The camera moves freely, capturing the busy details and nervous interactions beginning to overtake the palace. A few times, his techniques – a snappy zoom on another rat, for instance – seem out of place and overly dramatic, but for the most part, they give the period drama an invigorating modern vibe.
Unfortunately, that's where "Farewell, My Queen"'s freshness and excitement end. The melodramatic story doesn't go anywhere particularly fast, and none of the characters really stand out. The world they incorporate is fascinating; they are not. This isn't the actors' fault, as Seydoux is an intriguing on-screen presence, and Kruger finds some nice depth in the film's juiciest role, erratically flipping between kind and compassionate to viciously off-kilter.
It may not have been in the movie's best interest to tell its story through Sidonie's perspective. The character and the performance are so emotionally bottled up that it spreads to the rest of the film, making the French drama come off cold and drab. Even after a turn of events near the end, the potential tension barely simmers due to the script's emotionally chilliness. It doesn't help that a few seconds after its climax, "Farewell, My Queen" plows into an unsatisfying ending narration.
Cinema is a visual medium, so "Farewell, My Queen" merits a mild recommendation thanks to its lush direction and atmosphere. But even so, it's hard to escape the sense that it's just as cold and unfeeling as the infamous monarch at its center.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Feb. 27, 2015
After a quarter of a century as Milwaukee music mainstays, Clamnation is coming to an end, bringing things to a grand close Friday night at the Nomad World Pub beginning at 9 p.m. There tends to be an assumption of the worst when band members go separate ways, but that's far from the case here.
Published Feb. 25, 2015
"The Lego Movie Sequel" made headlines yesterday announcing its newly appointed director: Rob Schrab, a veteran of TV shows like "The Mindy Project," "Children's Hospital" and, most notably, NBC's beloved cult hit "Community." He also wrote the indie hit comic book "Scud: The Disposable Assassin." Oh, and he's also from Wisconsin! Everything is local! Everything is cool when you're from Milwaukee!
Published Feb. 25, 2015
If you've kept an ear to the local music scene over the past year or two, the odds are good that you've heard about GGOOLLDD. The band hits the Company Brewing (the former Stonefly Brewery) stage on Saturday night as a part of Arte Para Todos. Before that, however, OnMilwaukee.com caught up with the group to learn more about Milwaukee's latest music obsession.
Published Feb. 24, 2015
In the war between honesty and artifice, "Still Alice" has a pretty phenomenal performance in the former's corner.
Published Feb. 22, 2015
In movies, time travel typically ends up in the hands of the decent or deserving. "Hot Tube Time Machine 2" proposes ... what if it didn't? What if, instead, it wound up in the depraved hands of a bunch of restrained man-child ids, who then proceeded to violate space, time and everyone and everything they ran into along the way? The answer? Some laughs, I guess. A good amount of silence too. Bags don't come much more mixed than this.
Published Feb. 20, 2015
After months of hoopla and think-piecing (and a bomb scare just for extra drama) the Oscars are finally set to go this Sunday. And I suppose that means it's time to get my picks in order.
Published Feb. 18, 2015
Local rock band Eagle Trace has a new EP - "Off in the Night" - primed for release this weekend at a show at Anodyne Coffee in Walker's Point on Saturday, Feb. 21. For the guys, it's exactly the step forward they're hoping for. It's an understandably exciting one after about a year of drama and tension for Eagle Trace. And not just because of the predictable brotherly bickering - though there's some of that as well.
Published Feb. 16, 2015
The fan favorite jukebox musical "Mamma Mia!" - arriving at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on Friday for a five-show weekend stint - tells the tale of love found and thriving in the midst of the Mediterranean, all to the tune of ABBA hits. For ensemble cast members Jennifer and Vince Wingerter, it's a story that rings true in real life.
Published Feb. 14, 2015
It's Valentine's Day, which means many will be showing their love to their significant others, boyfriends, girlfriends and so on. But how much do we show our love to our pets - dogs in particular? According to a recent survey, as far as Wisconsinites go compared to the rest of the U.S., we're somewhere in the middle.
Published Feb. 14, 2015
Over 16 years of "SpongeBob SquarePants," the Nickelodeon cartoon's blend of childish giddiness, meta jokes and kooky non sequiturs has landed alongside Fruit Roll-Ups and naps in the middle section of a Venn diagram of things kids and cannabis users can equally love. That's certainly the case with the chatty cleaning device's delightfully wackadoodle second big screen trip, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water."