Fanciers of period pieces, stay away. The Marie-Antoinette of Benoît Jacquot’s film is no dimpled and fashionable clueless Austrian princess busy trying on new wigs. Instead, she (Diane Kruger) is red-eyed with distress and worry, not so much out of awareness of gathering storms but because her bosom friend, the haughty Duchess of Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) is not present enough. The time is 1789, the date, July 15. History buffs will remember the 14th as the fall of the Bastille which marked the beginning of the French Revolution and many tumultuous and bloody years.
In “Farewell, my Queen,” Versailles is not the prettified castle of Sofia Coppola’s pastel-colored “Marie Antoinette” but a huge unkempt mansion of crumbling walls and hidden staircases leading to sordid servant quarters–the precise reality of the Versailles of that day, in fact. The heavily ornamented décor of the endless reception rooms, the serene vistas (Jacquot somehow wrangled the rare authorization of filming directly in the castle) are witness to the agitation of distraught courtiers whispering about the rumours of turmoil and sedition, afraid of losing their privileges and their reason for living–breathing the same air as the monarch.
In the middle of all this, the clear-eyed and adoring book reader to the queen, Sidonie (Léa Seydoux) wants one thing only, to be allowed to worship at the altar of Marie Antoinette. Events will decide otherwise.
“Farewell my Queen” is currently showing in theaters. Get your tickets here
Benoît Jacquot gives us a beautifully-acted, intelligent and moving masterpiece, a film that makes history leap off the screen. We know what will happen, we know that a new order is sweeping France, that the king and, two years later, Marie-Antoinette herself, will (bravely) go to the guillotine. Caught up in those two fateful days, we watch the anxious white-wigged, bejeweled and satin-clad crowds endlessly pacing the corridors, the stairs, the ballrooms and the grounds of beautiful Versailles, and know that Jacquot has it exactly right.
Read other reviews and essays by Saïdeh Pakravan, author of One Hundred Years of Must-See Movies