Farewell, My Queen | Movie review
At the dawn of the French Revolution, a smitten servant longs for Marie Antoinette.
If Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette turned the life of the queen into an endless party, here at last is the hangover: a vision of Versailles in the frenzied final days before the mob came for Her Majesty’s head. Instead of witnessing the collapse of power through royal eyes, we’re afforded a more common perspective—namely, that of the queen’s personal reader, played by the exquisitely pouty French starlet Léa Seydoux. The poor girl’s got it bad for her employer; the infatuation is clear from her first onscreen encounter with Diane Kruger’s glowing but casually cruel monarch. Seydoux’s servant, radiating carnal curiosity, peers through half-open doors at her celebrity crush with a mixture of sapphic desire and pure class envy. She’s basically an 18th-century starfucker.
As with Coppola’s movie, much of Farewell, My Queen was filmed at the real Versailles. Skulking through the palace’s ancient halls, his handheld camera trailing Seydoux’s every hurried move, director Benoît Jacquot creates a fascinating friction between immaculate period detail and a distinctly modern brand of vérité voyeurism. Briefly, as whisperings of the Bastille pass through the court and an execution list makes the rounds, the movie suggests a French Revolution docudrama made in the quasi-real-time mold of United 93.
The urgency doesn’t stick; Jacquot is more invested in the comparably banal matter of unrequited affection, nudging Seydoux’s smitten naïf between Antoinette and the queen’s friend (possibly with benefits), the duchess of Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). The film is being championed in some circles as a corrective to Coppola’s daydream of wealth and luxury. But is the groupie’s story any more valuable than the rock star’s?