Film: Farewell, My Queen (2012)
Cast includes: Diane Kruger (Inglorious Basterds), Léa Seydoux (Midnight in Paris), Virginie Ladoyen (8 Women)
Director: Benoit Jacquot (La Fille seule)
Genre: Period drama (100 minutes) French with subtitle
It’s July 14, 1789, and Sidonie Laborde awakes to the incessant itch of mosquito bites. Although Versailles is dripping with opulence, the servant quarters are dark, small and rat-infested. As the queen’s reader, Sidonie has more than most… like the clock that says it’s 6:15. Arriving late, Sidonie can’t be sure what kind of mood Marie Antoinette will be in. But this morning, the queen offers Sidonie a cup of coffee… it’s new to France and an acquired taste. “I feel like something frivolous this morning.” So after reading Felicity, the queen wants Sidonie to read from the latest fashion brochure. When Marie Antoinette notices the mosquito bites on Sidonie’s arm, she insists on applying rosewater… even though it makes Sidonie uneasy. “Pretty little arms,” Marie Antoinette comments. And before long, the queen has turned her attention to selecting fabrics and dress styles.
A lady in waiting’s primary duty is to wait, and Sidonie has plenty of time for waiting… and so do most of the servants. Perhaps it’s why gossip is such a popular pastime at Versailles. Is it true what they say about the duchess, Gabrielle de Polignac? Never mind… today there’s something going on in Paris, and it seems serious… peasants storming the Bastille. While Sidonie isn’t privy to information, she has her ways of finding things out. Versailles is suddenly buzzing with strange activity… people taking away valuables, talk of leaving the palace, the king negotiating with rebels. It’s hard to know what to believe. But Sidonie is one of the few who can read… and she sees the list of 286 names with her own eyes. The peasants are demanding decapitations. Her queen’s name is right at the top of the list. Sidonie hurries when she’s summoned. Marie Antoinette is understandably having difficulty staying focused… she needs reading material for a trip, a book on geography, new clothes… and in the middle of it all, she has an obsession she wants to talk about… Gabrielle.
The film covers the first few days of the French Revolution. Peasants are demanding both bread and power… and the servants are not sure where they stand. They’re not part of the aristocracy, but they’re not sure what awaits on the outside. Sidonie is one of the few who is loyal to her queen, even though the queen hardly notices her… unless she needs her, of course. The lavish costumes and opulent locations make Farewell My Queen a spectacular visual treat. The narrative is complex, in that it attempts to show us the chaos of the French Revolution, from the points of view of multiple characters… none of whom have a complete understanding. The filmmaker doesn’t spoon-feed us. Based on a novel by Chantal Thomas, there are many small stories… some that aren’t easy to grasp as they (and the subtitles) fly by. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee). But if it’s yours, it’s so rich, you could easily see it more than once. We get Marie Antoinette’s story through Sidonie’s eyes… “So young and already so blind.”
4 popped kernels
With the French Revolution raging outside, Marie Antoinette’s “reader” will do anything to stay at Versailles with her queen
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: High-end production
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & thought provoking