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 July 1, 2015
I'll admit it; before Tuesday night's Marcus Amphitheater show started up, one of those people was me. I wondered why a band, whose last seemingly notable moments came at the service of three-fourths of Michael Bay's "Transformers" franchise, was a Big Gig Amp headliner. Well, one large serving of crow, please, cooked medium rare.
Published June 30, 2015
Most bands desperately hope that their music videos will go viral. For pop rockers OK Go, at this point, it's almost expected. With a Summerfest headliner set scheduled for the Uline Warehouse on Thursday, July 2, I chatted with bassist/vocalist Tim Nordwind about the band's stories behind some of their viral sensations.
Published June 30, 2015
After traveling the globe in support of its star-making self-titled debut album, PHOX's tour is bringing the band right back to where its journey started in the first place: Wisconsin. Before it heads home to Baraboo, the band is dropping by its "home away from home" of Milwaukee to play Summerfest, opening for Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros on Thursday, July 2. Before then, we talked to Matt Holmen about his own fond Big Gig memories.
Published June 29, 2015
According to, well, herself, DJ Paris Hilton is one of the top paid DJs currently working. Unfortunately, much like the "Transformers" movies, her Summerfest set was one of those situations where the amount of the money involved was inversely proportionate to the amount of skill on display. Also like the "Transformers" films, it was loud, clunky, sporadically dull despite all of the noise, unnecessarily lengthy and, by the end, left me in a little bit of pain.
Published June 28, 2015
If you've seen Disney/Pixar's latest animated hit "Inside Out," there's a good chance a certain song has been rattling around in your mind ever since. No, not that TripleDent gum jingle, but the chorus to "Lava," the brief and beautifully rendered short about a volcanic island looking for love. While the short takes plenty of inspiration from Hawaii, as it turns out, Murphy's journey to get there made a stop right here in Milwaukee.
Published June 28, 2015
As clearly proved Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, "Shut Up And Dance" pop rockers Walk The Moon can now draw a packed house. The only question: Would they put on a show worthy of the face painted mob they gathered? Most certainly.
Published June 27, 2015
For a guy whose latest album was titled "Can't Even Do Wrong Right," a lot has gone pretty right for legendary blues rocker Elvin Bishop over the past 365 days - an award-winning new album, a place on the soundtrack of one of Hollywood's biggest hits, a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and now a headliner gig at Summerfest on Tuesday, June 30.
Published June 27, 2015
The old-school folk group Punch Brothers tried something different and set their goals somewhere new Friday night at the BMO Harris Pavilion. Lead singer and maniacal mandolinist Chris Thile said their mission was not to raise the roof, but "tap the roof," delicately nudging the ceiling with his pointer fingers. Well, congratulations Punch Brothers; you tapped the roof Friday night at Summerfest. And then some.
Published June 26, 2015
Judging by X Ambassadors brief seven-song Summerfest set at a well packed U.S. Cellular Connection Stage early Thursday evening, there's still some work to be done before the band officially earns the title of Top 40 rock heir apparent. However, the potential is most certainly there, and by the end of the rockers' setlist, it was on full display.
Published June 25, 2015
Before the indie pop duo's upcoming Summerfest gig at the Miller Lite Oasis on Sunday, June 28, OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Mates of State's Jason Hammel to chat about the band's decision to stop making LPs, his sad memory of Milwaukee and "The Rumperbutts." Yes, "The Rumperbutts."