‘Farewell’ a finely tuned look at doomed queen

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, July 25, 2012 3:54pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Stories of royal intrigue tend to be told from the perspective of the royals. This can be involving, but it can also lead to the oddly sheltered quality of something like Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.”

So it’s refreshing to see a different point of view. “Farewell, My Queen” takes up the final days of Marie Antoinette’s extended stay at Versailles, just as the French citizens were staging a revolution in Paris.

This version of the fall of the dynasty, based on a novel by Chantal Thomas, is told mostly from the vantage of the queen’s reader. That’s her job: to pick out books and read them with Marie, the vaguely bored Austrian-born queen.

The reader is Sidonie (played by Lea Seydoux), who seems almost as bored as her royal highness. That is, until rumors begin to swirl that something unusual happened at the Bastille in Paris, and that power might be shifting from king to commoner.

One of the carefully drawn aspects of the movie is its depiction of how news is disseminated at Versailles. The servants are either ignored or shunned, but they have a way of picking up fragments of the news and relaying them through the hallways and anterooms of the royal residence.

“Farewell” doesn’t try to paint Sidonie as some kind of crusader, but she clearly has the smarts to sense the big change in the air. Seydoux, who popped up in the most recent “Mission: Impossible” picture, has a good combination of sleepy watchfulness combined with quick reactions.

The queen is played by European star Diane Kruger, known here for “Inglorious Basterds” and the “National Treasure” movies. She has just the right touch of Germanic reserve for the queen, a contrast to her French surroundings.

The subplot has Marie Antoinette in love with a duchess, Gabrielle de Polignac (played by Virginie Ledoyen). Even with the empire crumbling around her, Marie is distracted by this crush, which in its own way says something about her priorities in the world.

“Farewell” is not a traditional period picture. The director, Benoit Jacquot, has long been a master of quiet, fine-tuned character studies, and this one has very little historical sweep (no cutaways to people rioting at the Bastille) but a lot of small-scale politics.

In other words, by concentrating on what happens in the rooms at Versailles, and how the queen ignores or manipulates her servants, we sense an entire ruling system in operation. And even with the implied criticism of that system, the royals are treated with sympathy.

Throw in a wonderfully mysterious ending, and you’ve got a movie that lingers.

“Farewell, My Queen” (3 stars)

The waning days of Marie Antoinette’s reign at Versailles, seen through the eyes of the book-reader (Lea Seydoux) to the queen (Diane Kruger). No sweeping spectacle here, but a fine look at how behavior inside the rooms of Versailles mirrors the royals’ larger problems. In French, with English subtitles.

Rated: R for nudity.

Showing: Seven Gables.

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