Sunday, August 26, 2012

Farewell, my lovely…

MY LOVELY QUEEN, that is: we saw Benoît Jacquot's film Les adieux à la reine yesterday, a very beautiful and quite intelligent film based on the historical novel of the same title by Chantal Thomas.

(I haven't read the novel, which won the Prix Femina when it was published in 2002; it's available translated into English. Another title of Thomas's, The Wicked Queen: The origins of the myth of Marie-Antoinette, sounds quite fascinating and is criticism, not fiction: perhaps I'll look into it.)

The story concerns Sidonie Laborde, an apparently fictional Reader to Marie-Antoinette — a servant, well below the various ladies-in-waiting on the pecking order, but intelligent and observant; and the plot rests on the apparently equally fictional sexual attraction Marie-Antoinette felt to her confidante the Duchesse de Polignac (and, by implication, Sidonie).

(If you read French, the historian Evelyne Lever comments interestingly on the fictional and the historically accurate aspects of the events in an interview with Le Figarohere.)

All this spools along very nicely, ruffled by little subplots involving a larcenous lady-in-waiting, a couple of clerics with healthy appetites, a marvelous librarian, and a randy, handsome young man. But what really animates this film and its hundred quick minutes is the depiction of the claustrophobic Versailles palace in July 1789, as news of the fall of the Bastille arrives, the King is forced to confront history, and preparations must be made to escape.

I haven't seen the inside of Versailles (and haven't until now wanted to), but Jacquot's cinematography seems pretty persuasive. Architectural details, servant's quarters, the courtyard seen alternatingly from the viewpoints of servants and of courtiers — all this, visually, accompanies a sense of accelerating and impending catastrophe. It's a striking and even a memorable movie, well written and acted, beautifully filmed and edited; I could imagine seeing it again.

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