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 March 23, 2017
A new HGTV house-flipping show set in Milwaukee - "My Flippin' Friends," starring Cream City native and I Spy DIY creator Jenni Radosevich - is headed to your televisions. But it needs your help to stay there.
Published March 22, 2017
From original shows and movies to an impressive lineup of classic films and legendary directors, there's plenty to be excited for next month on Netflix. Unfortunately, what streaming services giveth they also taketh away.
Published March 21, 2017
Thanks to the Milwaukee Bucks, Nick Viall is coming home. On Friday night, the Bucks will not only host the Atlanta Hawks, but also a themed night dedicated to Waukesha's very own star of "The Bachelor" and current "Dancing with the Stars" hoofer.
Published March 21, 2017
Last night, "Dancing with the Stars" hit the stage for its 24th season and 400th episode, with the usual collection of sports stars and C-listers. The judges had their say, but here's our rankings - from worst to first - after the premiere.
Published March 20, 2017
Was this opening weekend ACTUALLY boring? It's easy to say that after watching cute mid-major after cute mid-major crumble before your eyes, but compared to other seasons, were last weekend's first couple rounds a bummer? Let's look.
Published March 19, 2017
On Saturday, April 8, Food Network star Alton Brown will return to Milwaukee for a new live show, "Eat Your Science," at the Riverside Theater. But before anybody eats their science, Brown plans to eat our city's best - and he wants your help.
Published March 18, 2017
In a case of impressive timing, the same weekend the Emma Watson-led live action adaptation hits cinemas, the Skylight Music Theatre opens its rendition of "Beauty and the Beast," a new take on the tale as old as time - complete with a puppet.
Published March 17, 2017
A viewer wrote a letter to WISN 12's Toya Washington to offer some fashion observations and suggestions - and the local news anchor answered back on Facebook.
Published March 16, 2017
While some use pesky statistics like "wins" and "losses" to pick their champion, everyone knows the best way to win the office bracket pool is by knowing as little as possible. So here's the first round of March Madness, as chosen by mascot.
Published March 15, 2017
Today, the Wisconsin State Fair announced two more Main Stage headliners for its upcoming 2017 edition this summer: a cappella craze Pentatonix and country star Kip Moore.