Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Oblivious French royals live out opulent last days

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Farewell, My Queen, BenoÆt Jacquot's beautifully rendered costume drama about the dying days of France's Bourbon dynasty, begins on July 14, 1789 -- Bastille Day -- and takes place over the next four days. Surprisingly, this love story, set in the early days of the French Revolution, does not go well.

History tells us that the Bastille was overtaken and the French Revolution had officially boiled over, but you wouldn't know it from looking at Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), who is more concerned with the trappings of her regal lifestyle.

As the course of history changes offscreen, Antoinette summons her personal reader, Sidonie (Léa Seydoux), who is faithful to her queen to a fault.

"You're so young, and already blind," Sidonie is told, although the expression could also be used to describe the court of Louis XVI, which proceeds in gilded ignorance to the outside world.

In fact, one of the major strengths of Jacquot's film is that it doesn't show us massive crowds of revolting peasants, but instead tells the story through Sidonie's limited perspective.

Only the viewer knows the eventual outcome, which adds to the overall tension of the film.

Like the Royal Family, Jacquot seems to ignore history in favour of the personal stories unfolding within Versailles. In particular, he's concerned with a lesbian love triangle of sorts, a plot point not in the bestselling novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas, but which Jacquot added based on rumours of the day. The subservient Sidonie pines for Antoinette, but the feelings remain unrequited as the queen becomes infatuated with Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), a conflict that provides one of the most emotionally charged scenes of the film.

Much of Farewell, My Queen was shot on location at the Palace of Versailles, which contributes to the film's overall esthetic. From the lighting to the costumes, Jacquot's attention to detail is nothing short of exquisite.

But for all the opulence, he's also not afraid to show the ugliness lurking underneath, a contrast that plays throughout the entire film.

Antoinette's cloistered in luxury, oblivious to the revolution, while Sidonie moves through dark, candle-lit hallways among the rats and the whispered rumours of impending doom. By the time desperation finally starts to hit Antoinette, expertly played by Kruger, it's already too late.

Knowing that the only sure thing in the queen's future is the guillotine, viewers have nothing left to do but enjoy watching as this finely tailored gown begins to unravel thread by thread.

-- Postmedia News


Farewell, My Queen

Starring Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen, Léa Seydoux



HHH 1/2 out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2012 D7

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