English Title: Farewell, My Queen
Original Title: Les adieux à la reine
Country: France, Spain
Language: French, English, German, Italian
Genre: Drama, History, Romance
Director/Writer: Benoît Jacquot
based on the novel of Chantal Thomas
Music: Bruno Coulais
Cinematography: Romain Winding
Benoît Jacquot’s Berlin Golden Bear contender in 2012, FAREWELL, MY QUEEN taps into a beguiling re-imagination of Marie Antoinette’s (Kruger) impassioned affinity with Gabrielle de Polastron, duchess de Polignac (Ledoyen), on the eve of the French Revolution in 1789, without delving into more scandalously graphic details of their lesbian relationship, and unlike Sofia Coppola’s palatially sumptuous MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006), Jacquot complies to Chantal Thomas’ source novel and the film narrates entirely from the viewpoint of the Queen’s young servant Sidonie Laborde (Seydoux), who often reads for her, which signifies that preponderantly viewers are invited to get a peep of the back rooms of Palace of Versailles for a change.
Needless to say, the royal mise-en-scène has its sublime allure to those addicted to the period grandeur, often in passing glimpses wherever Sidonie drifts around in her fretful steps, this proves to be a cunningly economical stratagem of shifting the focus to the characters’ mood swings when an impending uprising is in the pipeline. All hell broke loose therein, but not Sidonie, she remains inexorably loyal to Marie Antoinette after has been privileged with a tête-à-tête by the Queen in person, which the latter confides to her the affection she feels for Gabrielle. It makes her feel special about herself, it also thrills her sexually, to be granted such a honor which is out of her rung, she becomes the closest friend of the Queen of France, what more can a girl of her place want?
Given the frenzied context, Sidonie barely has time to relish the joy, she puts her back into fishing latest information of the revolution, voluntarily running errands for the Queen, including waywardly barging into Gabrielle’s boudoir and glaring her naked body with a trenchant incisiveness of jealousy and disparagement. But what does her “specialness” really mean to the Queen? When Marie Antoinette bestows her the ultimate mission, it hits her like a sledgehammer, inwardly, she might have a faintest hope that Marie Antoinette would indulge her like a forbidden fruit, in a more peaceful time, maybe, but not at that crunch, when monarchy is hanging by a thread, all she can do is to silently accept her fate as an honored decoy, the last thing she could ever do for her Queen, then for the first time in her life, she wallows in her moment of superiority, however facile and ominous it is, and the story just ends there, when she forever departs from Marie Antoinette’s life, she, Sidonie Laborde, becomes a nobody.
Admittedly, the film feels foreshortened, even myopic when considering such a sensational commotion is undergoing, there must be something more theatrically pressing can be projected on the screen (even Marie Antoinette’s own story has many colorful facets), but in this unapologetically feminist reconstruction, Jacquot gallantly attempts to deconstruct the undertow of this particular situation (from a servant’s perspective) fraught with attraction, disaffection, perturbation and self-deception, exclusively among women from different strata.
Léa Seydoux gives a patchy incarnation of Sidonie, often casts her customarily inscrutable gaze masked with an air of stuck-up insouciance to the camera, but short in supply when a young maiden’s ingenuousness is demanded, she seems more impenetrable than all her more worldly seniors, which considerably deflects Sidonie from being a queen-stuck virgin as she is. Diane Kruger, as her antithesis, contrives a much more rounded interpretation of the Queen, a mellow amalgam of personable femininity and fickle monarchist, an incorrigible romantic and a well-adjusted planner, that’s only garnered from her fitful screen-time, and leaves us hot to trot to envision what she would be doing before her ill-fated sign-off. Perhaps a revisit of Coppola’s work can quench the yearning, or otherwise.