Saturday, July 14, 2012

Farewell, My Queen

The subject of Benoit Jacquot’s “Farewell, My Queen” is not my departure Monday for Philadelphia. Rather, it’s Marie Antoinette (her again?) during the last days of Versailles. Jacquot was actually allowed to film at Versailles, and it’s a secondary failing of the movie that he’s failed to capture the decadent grandeur of the place, the sheer flawless vulgarity of it (to borrow a line from “Small Time Crooks”). The primary problem is an overstuffed plot that would require an MIT wall-size dry-erase board to diagram.

Diane Kruger plays Marie, and her faintly oblique performance is the most interesting aspect of “Farewell, My Queen.” Jacquot imagines Marie as a closet sapphist deeply in love with her leading lady-in-waiting, Gabriele de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). The movie is told, though, through the eyes (literally) of the queen’s reader, an invented character named Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux – but give me Miou-Miou in “La Lectrice”). Ledoyen and Seydoux are so physically indistinguishable that in the final sequence the latter poses as the former – an issue that famously plagued “Dead Poets Society” (in which they all looked alike).

Jacquot packs a regime’s worth of comings and goings into four days over 100 minutes, with camerawork so herky-jerky we feel like we’re running alongside the crew. Yet when I returned from a short bathroom break, my friend whispered that I hadn’t missed anything and we shared a laugh. For all the activity, amazingly little actually happens. (No, there's no money shot.) Morpheus kept asking to visit – the dim lighting in many scenes doesn’t help – but the abrupt ending let us stave him off. There’s material here for a great movie about a queen coming into her own just too late, but it’s not “Farewell, My Queen.”

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