Farewell, My Queen, employing artists of both skill and splendor, unfortunately achieves neither. Instead it leaves its audience at the palace gates, searching for more context to a story with a sweeping back-story, and indeed, there is much left unswept.
The French Revolution has provided an unending fountain of beauty and blood for literature and drama. From Victor Hugo to Sophia Coppola, scribes continue to mine the riches of the 18th century rise and fall--and my, how they fell--of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
The sets and costumes work overtime in this latest film from director Benoit Jacquot (La Fille Seule), filling the big screen with Oscar-caliber detail. Farewell, My Queen's sets (shot on location in Versailles) are lit magnifique, accented by so much shadow from cinematographer Romain Winding.
But sadly, the screenplay--based on Chantal Thomas' Prix Femina-winning novel--is clunky. Instead of tiptoeing in and out of secret palatial passages, the script plods through uneven and oddly disconnected scenes, each promising more than what is ultimately delivered.
"I'm just her servant," says Sidonie Laborde (the beauteous Lea Seydoux), but mademoiselle is much more: the erratic queen's confidante. As a courtier tasked with reading to the queen, she also indulges her majesty's scandalous whims, including her love for another woman (Virginie Ledoyen).
"Have you ever been attracted to a woman to the point that you suffer in her absence?" asks Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). In fact, her blind attraction is more of an obsession, and there you have the foundation of Thomas' lusty novel, filled to the gills with regal intrigue. Alas, Jacquot's film feels wrung dry of that obsession, and in the paltry scenes between the lesbian lovers, some sparks fly but we are left to imagine the intensity of an intimacy that plays out while a nation's undoing rumbles beyond the palace walls. History tells us that it's enough to lose your head over.
One moment, Farewell, My Queen lilts with grandeur and spectacle, the next it is liltless in filth, heady stuff for a smart examination of the naivete embedded in the reign of Louis and Marie.
In an early scene, Laborde is grandly drifting around the palace's ponds when a dead rat bobs to the surface: a perfectly horrendous moment. Unfortunately, the scene is left adrift like so many other instances in the film that come across as more metaphorical than critical to the story's structure. There's a good movie in there somewhere but too many dots don't connect. Farewell, My Queen is as lovely as a Paris postcard. Unfortunately, it has about as much substance.