As the opening film to this year’s Berlinale and one of the competition films, Farewell My Queen (Les Adieux a la Reine) has high expectations placed upon it. Unfortunately this historical drama was rather underwhelming. Set in Versailles in July 1789, the film follows Sidonie (brilliantly played by Léa Seydoux), a servant and reader to Queen Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). Chaos slowly takes over the palace as France is on the brink of revolution and we see the effect it has on the servant’s quarters and behind the scenes at the palace. The Queen is rather fond of her reader Sidonie and confides in her as panic is setting in and rumours are aplenty. Marie Antoinette tells of her love for a Duchess (Virginie Ledoyen) and soon is asking a final request from Sidonie. But just how devoted and loyal is she to her Queen?
The element that struck me immediately about this film is the high level of realism and with a period piece this is quite startling. Lighting is a huge part of this film, each scene’s mood depicted by the type of light. To begin with we see stark daylight, revealing the itching scabs on Sidonie’s arms and in a later scene with the reader and her Queen, the scene is lit by firelight, illuminating Marie Antoinette in a dreamlike way, perhaps how Sidonie sees her. The look of this film is opulent realism, with lush fabrics and the setting of the magnificent Versailles shown in a realistic way, with no gloss or artificial lighting. Visually the film is stunning, with interesting camera angles and an abundance of close ups of the beautiful ladies’ faces.
Diane Kruger is a marvellous Antoinette and the ambiguous sexual tension with Sidonie is delicately crafted. Lea Seydoux is an excellent lead and makes the best out of her role as Sidonie, however, as one servant states they know nothing about her and we as the audience don’t either. This for me was the biggest problem with the film, I neither liked nor disliked the character and it really needed more investment in order to care about what happens. It feels like quite a distant viewpoint even though we are supposed to be seeing everything from the servant’s perspective and eavesdropping with them. Perhaps this is intentional in order to allow the audience to feel the confusion that the people at Versailles felt, but it didn’t work for me.
I found the ending rather abrupt, with no real climax or conclusion. That said the film didn’t drag and was engaging enough for the duration but it left me feeling perplexed as to why it was good but not great. The acting was strong throughout but the lead character was not strong enough and the story felt rather shallow. There were plenty of beautiful landscape shots and visually this film is creative with imaginative use of lighting, often contrasting total darkness with bright daylight. But unfortunately the film didn’t have the impact it could have had with such great actors and a fascinating story. There are some light humorous moments so that it doesn’t become a stale historical piece but there’s not enough to make it memorable.
All in all a beautiful and enjoyable enough film but lacking anything to make it remarkable.
Director: Benoît Jacquot
Stars: Diane Kruger, Léa Seydoux and Virginie Ledoyen
Runtime: 100 mins