Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen) is Benoît Jacquot’s account of the final days of King Louis XVI’s reign as the French Revolution takes hold. Based on the novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas, the story is seen through the eyes of Marie Antoinette’s (Diane Kruger) reader Sidonie (played by Léa Seydoux). Of course no tale of the French royal court under any circumstances, would be complete without some royal dalliances and court intrigue.
While watching this film, I was reminded that we are bearing witness to historical events and not just simply revisiting them, like one does in a book or a museum. During the Q&A session that followed our screening, Jacquot emphasized how important using this convention was in telling his story. In his opinion, it was important that the audience feel like they are in the ‘here and now,’ watching the events unfold as a matter of fact, with no reference of what may lie ahead. After all, as we live in the present, that’s it – we live in complete ignorance of the impact minor events have on a ‘big picture.’
Jacquot accomplished the above to great effect by doing what is somewhat of a ‘trademark’ of his – a reliance on a very relaxed photographic style; this really gives the film a sense of the present and roots it in a reality not often felt or experienced in a period piece.
In terms of star-power, the headliner is obviously going to be the internationally known German actress Diane Kruger. However, the true star of the film is Léa Seydoux and her subtle portrayal of Sidonie, the Queen’s Reader; she is our way into this world of increasing chaos and instability. It should be noted that in the source material, Sidonie is quite older and is giving her account via a series of flashback. This was a conscious decision made on the part of the director, with the author’s approval.
As for ‘Marie Antoinette,’ Diane Kruger brings a mercurial tone to her French monarch that at times makes the audience almost pity her. But then a decision in the final act brings the audience back to earth and one remembers “Oh yeah, that is the ‘let them eat cake’ chick.”
But above all else the pièce de résistance of the film is the production and costume design. Instead of feeling like we are on a walking tour through a museum, Versailles comes across as a vibrant, lived-in palace (as far as a royal residence CAN be lived in) where every corner has a tale to tell. And the bold, beautiful costumes need to be seen on the big screen to be believed. There are two dresses in particular which stand out in my mind: the green dress worn so confidently by Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) and the dress worn by Marie Antoinette as King Louis XVI leaves the palace for the last time (Note: these photos do not do them justice).
In summary, Les adieux à la reine is a spirited feast for the (visual) senses that breathes some air into what could have been a rather stale, tiresome historical exercise.
Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen)
Directed by Benoît Jacquot
Produced by Jean-Pierre Guérin, Kristina Larsen
Written by Benoît Jacquot, Gilles Taurand, Chantal Thomas (novel)
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen, Xavier Beauvois
Cinematography: Romain Winding
Release date(s): 9 February 2012 (Berlin), US Release Date: TBD