Combustible Celluloid
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With: Diane Kruger, Léa Seydoux, Virginie Ledoyen, Xavier Beauvois, Noémie Lvovsky, Michel Robin, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Lolita Chammah, Vladimir Consigny, Dominique Reymond, Anne Benoît, Hervé Pierre, Aladin Reibel, Jacques Nolot, Jacques Herlin
Written by: Benoît Jacquot, Gilles Taurand, based on a novel by Chantal Thomas
Directed by: Benoît Jacquot
MPAA Rating: R for brief graphic nudity and language
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 02/09/2012

Farewell, My Queen (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Royal Affairs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

So many costume dramas come dead on arrival, concentrating more on re-creating a period than creating one. The Duchess and The Young Victoria were two recent yawn-inducing samples. On the other hand, Benoit Jacquot's Farewell, My Queen -- which was the opening night feature at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival and now arrives in Bay Area theaters -- unfolds with urgency. It has an intense focus on the events of any given moment, rather than the events of history.

Farewell, My Queen takes place in 1789, when Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) ruled. The movie mostly focuses on Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux), a lovely young servant who reads for the queen (and must choose the appropriate book for the appropriate mood). Soon, the Bastille falls and the French citizens prepare to collect the heads of the offending aristocrats. But inside the royal walls, this news spreads like it might today: whispers, rumors, and snatches of information.

Now the servants' usual struggle, vying for the Queen's favor and therefore a measure of power over one another, becomes intensified, and even urgent. Sidonie is summoned to the Queen's chambers, and given special tasks. She begins to believe that she has been given special favor. In one scene, Marie Antoinette notices bug bites on Sidonie's skin, and lovingly rubs rosewater on them. Sidonie can barely keep from fainting. But just as quickly, the Queen changes her mind and snaps at the poor reader. All this is complicated by the fact that Sidonie knows about the Queen's passionate, sensual relationship with the beautiful Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).

Director Jacquot, who is perhaps best known for A Single Girl and The School of Flesh, directs with an up-close immediacy, where time is a precious commodity, and something -- some task or rendezvous -- seems to await just outside the frame at any moment. This effect gives the movie a singular drive that prevents it from ever getting stale.

Many viewers will no doubt unfairly compare Farewell, My Queen with Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, which artfully depicted a kind of immobile entrapment in a world of opulence. But the two films, aside from their subject, are entirely different, not unlike, say, Jacquot's Sade and Philip Kaufman's Quills. Both have their strengths in different areas, and both could benefit from being viewed together, rather than one supplanting the other.

Yet Farewell, My Queen is more flesh and blood, and therefore sexier. Even those that don't like costume dramas may find themselves enraptured.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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