Farewell, My Queen Reviews
"Farewell, My Queen" is a briskly paced historical thriller that tells the beginnings of the fall of the House of Bourbon in France, as seen through they eyes of one servant girl. This point of view which used elsewhere before works especially well here in allowing the viewer to follow the story as the characters find out themselves, as aided by the natural lighting. As you can imagine, the movie is steeped in historical detail but not the usual fancy side, but a darker one, like rats. Since we know about the literal rats, how about the metaphorical rats? As dramatized, that's what the whole tragedy of the French royalty comes down to as they have never had to make a decision without others to do so for them before, and now have a huge one to make. With foresight being 20/20, we know the story of the Bastille and what comes next but here it is less certain and seems like it might be containable. So, what to do?
It's because the film, as a whole, is stunning, superb, engaging, and intensifying. Diane Kruger plays Marie Antoinette in a similar way Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lecter. No, Kruger did not make Marie Antoinette a cannibal (although she did tend to bite peoples heads off, and that's the last terrible joke of this review), but instead she makes Marie Antoinette the star of the show when she really wasn't on paper. Like Hopkins, Kruger really wasn't in the film that often. There are very long moments where you won't even see a glimpse of her. However, when she is on screen, she steals the show with one of the best performances I have seen all year. Kruger has proven to the world that she really does have more up her sleeve, and I'm sure this film will be the one that propels her from being a pleasant actor to being a household name (much like Hunger finally boosted Michael Fassbender, and look how unstoppable he is now). Her portrayal is unpredictable, ranging from facetious highs to bitter lows. She could have made her the villain of the film, of which she is a bit in a sense, but instead Kruger leaves her remaining likable and full of sympathy.
The visuals are nothing short of gorgeous. Usually I have a tough time believing period pieces because they seem too fake or too costume-y, but this film is one of the better efforts visually. The costumes were just right, the architecture and settings breathtaking, and even the camera angles, tones and the shadows recorded were all mesmerizing (save for the odd bizarre camera pan and/or zoom). There are long hallways that go on for a lifetime, there are windows that capture the world outside on the inside, and just so many beautiful, intricate things going on. Definitely one of the best films visually of the year. Sadly, that's not enough to save it.
The problem is that the film started many things but it never truly ended them, especially in regards to itself. The film's about to reach a climax, and it ends suddenly. There are characters that come, and they aren't really necessary nor do they get a proper finale. I get that this movie is seen through the perspective of a servant, but it still doesn't excuse the amount of unfinished business. Take Atonement, for example, another period piece seen through the eyes of someone of a lower position. That film, if it didn't have answers, at least had implied answers so we could do as we will with what we have. Here, we aren't given anything. We know what happens to Marie Antoinette, but that doesn't justify the film having such an anti climactic ending.
It's unfortunate because I was sitting there thinking "Wow, this is one of the better films of the year" the whole time right until the ending. I have no problem with sudden endings if the film deserves it. Maybe Farewell, My Queen does. As a first impression, however, it does not. The film is still worth checking out, because of Diane Kruger's phenomenal performance and the stunning visuals. In fact, the pacing and story for the most part are worth it, too. Just expect a very little pay off at the end.
Final Rating: 6.8/10
(ORIGINAL REVIEW written Aug. 29, 2012):
A lite-Robert Altman film. Farewell, My Queen has a premise that may draw unsuspecting viewers in, such as myself, but below the juicy surface of the implied lesbian romance is a film that observes the monarch and servant structures of Versailles. It just happens to be set during the final months of Marie Antoinette (before she fled).
The protagonist is the Queen's reader Sidonie (Lea Seydoux) who scurries between two worlds and can't help but hear/see the latest gossip whether it's the oncoming rebellion or what the high-class people really think behind closed doors. She acts out her usual customs and the film makes sure we see every single detail cuz y'know, accuracy! Historians and sociologists may get a kick outta this. Sidonie is the Queen's reader, so she reads books and magazines aloud to a sometimes absent-minded Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), who is capable of reading and writing herself, so why she needs a reader in the first place is a mystery. Boredom? Laziness? Luxury? Maybe just because she can. (fyi: Marie Antoinette wasn't dumb or illiterate). Over the course of whenever Sidonie was appointed "reader," she had developed a little crush on the Queen who herself seems to be in lesbians with her BFF Gabriele de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). The suspense! Ehhh, not really.
Our reader is just that: an observer acting on behalf of the audience to catch a glimpse of 1789 France. Sidonie also loves her Queen and would do anything to please her as she repeatedly says. In addition to the observant approach, the fascination with Marie Antoinette grows not only by Sidonie, but also by the viewer. Quite a bummer that for a movie about Marie Antoinette there's hardly any Marie Antoinette to be found but I guess that's what makes her limited screen time valuable. But only if you, the viewer, is fascinated by Marie Antoinette and history. If not, then you're gonna have a bad time.
This film is a mixed bag and I can't help but think the late Robert Altman would've made a damn fine adaptation. Very few directors could show what he or she intended with a large group, especially one of this complex structure, while also delivering a good story. Altman was a master of such presentation. Yes, we know the differences between servants and higher class--Altman showed that in his brilliant Gosford Park (it was about British class but kinda similar)--so why did this movie or story need to be made? It hardly shows anything worthwhile and even for a fictional story it comes up short. Our reader just is not interesting. She reads outloud, she crushes hard on Marie Antoinette, and she hears the juiciest gossip but what does it all matter in the end? Rumors, gossip, and speculation only get validated. The audience is aware of the inevitable so it's like we're just waiting. Sidonie could've been like an 18th century Gossip Girl and jotting down all this stuff ("Welcome to the scandalous life of Versailles' elite")... and it's sad that I made that reference. Something, anything!
Alas, the Queen sits in her chambers, confused, frightened, lonely, and (again) absent-minded. The only time she lightens up is when Gabriele enters the picture but at that point we don't care except for that woozy camera during their alone time. Speaking of which, this movie has some bad camerawork and unnecessary shots that trail off like the cameraman was drunk/stoned and the editor got lazy. Fiction aside, the look of the film is a generic historical presentation. Looks nice but so what? Where's the story I was promised? Forget the "sophistication," this is a work of fiction so treat it like one! I'm sure Versailles had a lot more interesting stories and many could have been told; be a cool ensemble piece. Or embellish the main story more, but we're just reduced to a fly-on-the-wall approach by our bland reader with a schoolgirl crush but just pussyfoots around... Maybe that fits the story/author's own creative liberties. Hell, Sofia Coppola had gusto even when her film was more grounded in history. And how could they shove Marie Antoinette aside? The fascination only grows from her limited screentime. I myself am utterly fascinated by this historical figure. Too bad she's in short supply and instead we're spoonfed the life of Versailles in a nutshell.
We know from history what will happen as the film wraps up. Surprisingly, what happens to our lead and I guess Marie Antoinette still kinda rocks our core. But it's too late for us to care any longer. To sum up the film, it's the story about a nobody who becomes a nobody in the end. No juiciness, just a really bland attempt at educating the uninitiated. Sidonie is basically Mr. Peabody in disguise.
Farewell, My Queen is not a bad film but it's really an unnecessary one. It seems more rooted in history despite a fictional take, so there are good sets, good acting, good costumes. The observant angle isn't well done but what does intrigue me was the reader's fascination maybe because, again, I am also fascinated by the Queen. But even that mindset doesn't go as far as I'd hope it would because there's virtually no Marie Antoinette here nor lesbian stuff. Yeah, typical guy thinking. Anyone who thinks this film is sophisticated or buys into the "audience observing Versailles" take are only kidding themselves and believe me, I tried to like this film with that warped outlook but it fell apart. It's not that I don't find life at Versailles uninteresting; the movie just gave us a checklist. Maybe this is good for some people to watch just for that but there isn't enough. For a while I did think the movie's approach was interesting, like a behind the scenes of Versailles, but the story was flat and borrowed from better movies. It's a boring and uninspired thesis paper mixed with a boring and uninspired fiction story.
Stick to a Robert Altman movie (Gosford Park or Short Cuts) or Sofia Coppola's underappreciated Marie Antoinette. Even that film, as much as people hated it, has more layers than this flick.
I'll give this film credit where it's due: visually, it's crazy gorgeous, I like Diane Kruger, and the quiet, suffocating (unrequited) longing by her lady-in-waiting was touching and sad. In life, there are few things more heartbreaking than witnessing the one you love pine away for someone else the same way you pine for them. Even as visually decadent as it is, it still doesn't scratch the surface of the pomp extravagance the real Antoinette loved to revel in. While I'm no history expert, I am a big fan of her & her story. The only thing people seem to remember about her is a quote she never really said and how she met her demise. Her fate was a perfect storm of gossip, politics, prejudice, greed (doesn't sound too far off from today, does it? lol). Except back in those days, one tiny bit of slander can snowball into literally ruining your life, and Antoinette's fate proved that nobility was no exception. These were days where there were no cell phone documentation, no transcripted recordings, no photographic evidence, not even fingerprints. One false witness, one open-ended rumor, ONE person whose favor you weren't granted (or whose favor you lost)could make the bottom of your life fall out, and that went double for women. And raise that to the nth degree if you were a woman of ROYALTY! Can you imagine how nerve-wrackingly SCARY it must've been to have to depend on winning the favor of strangers simply to earn your "right" to live as a functional member of society?
I suppose this movie is a nice story for those who DO indulge in the fantasy that Antionette was a star-crossed lover with another woman. Though some people believe she was gay, and at times it may appear so from her own pen, I am not convinced. I really do not believe she was gay. I believe there's more to it that's overlooked. Think about it: This poor girl's very reason of being in the French court was as a political pawn to secure good French/Austrian relations. Raised by a cold, distant, super-critical mother...her sister and only best friend, married off early by arrangement (while not even yet a teenager) , taken away from Antionette and was never to be seen or heard from again. Antoinette was then shipped off from her home of Austria to France (while not even yet 15) to be married to a timid, weak-willed, frigid (and allegedly impotent) prince who was more interested in hunting & hanging out with his brothers than being a husband, and she continued to live this way long after the King died & she became Queen. Add to the fact that Queendom separates you from human contact by several degrees except for servants which they're not allowed to interact with. That paints a picture of a SORELY lonely woman who might've clung a little too tightly to the notion of friendship (and yes, perhaps took a little too much liberty in comforting herself in material objects). Projecting her longing, not necessarily sexual, just for closeness, affection and compainionship onto the few people who were lucky enough to filter through the heiarchy of the noble houses just to GET to her AND win her favor/trust....
Closeness, affection & companionship, of which there was no source for her from anyone in her life. Not from her husband, never from her own family....she was literally the proverbial poor beautiful bird in a gilded cage. And for the early period of her reign (which led to the French people's unfavorable 1st impression of her), she was just a child locked in her room with no company but her toys. Antoinette was not necessarily longing for a female, but just...LONGING. To feel close to someone, emotionally, physically...Which, need I remind you, CAN be mutually exclusive from sexual feelings? It's so common how easily people take physical/emotional closeness and companionship for granted (me personally, those are all luxuries I learned to live without lol). And THAT RIGHT THERE is a HUGE irony this movie totally misses in favor of lesbian sensationalization: How Antionette, in the midst of all her comforts, luxuries & indulgences, suffers & starves in being denied one of the most essential of human needs: human closeness & affection. I think those who believe she is gay is just committing the sin of most modern Americans: reflexively sexualizing EVERYTHING. You can't even say the individual words "meat", "finger" ,"unit," "erect" "come" or even "member" anymore these days without getting a giggle or two...even from senior citizens!! Things have gotten THAT bad!!! Did you giggle at those words too? Then you just proved my point LOL!
So, when you consider this, and the scenario of Antionette's life that I described, I think it might lend light to your view that Antionette's "gayness" might have been a victim of the same presumptuous & premature sexualized conclusions. I believe the fact that she had a close companionship with a woman was more out of safety & convenience because...imagine how much more scandalous it would have been if her companions were male?? She would've lost her head much sooner, for sure! Common thought assumes it's "safer" to be seen with a woman, but alas, it's not scandal-proof. I really think her longing & needs were more innocent and it's US who are guilty by scandalizing & sensationalizing the conclusions....just as the French people did in their unofficial campaign to malign and eventually eliminate her. WE'RE the one guilty... in committing "dirty" thoughts in thinking the way we do about her, yet are holding HER guilty...when all she wanted was basically just to hold & be held. How sad. I really can't do her story justice, I don't have all the time or space needed to really show you...but then again, this painstakingly made big budget film didn't do her story much justice either *shrug* LOL! I guess you will just have to look her up & discover for yourself, if you really care to know. The "Diamond necklace affair" chapter alone will make your head spin lol.