Saturday, August 4, 2012

Farewell, My Queen: Being Nobody

About a month ago, I watched the trailer for 'Farewell, My Queen' (Les Adieux à la reine) in the theater and was pretty underwhelmed, which is weird because I tend to really like historical dramas. Anyway, I couldn't have been more wrong. 'Farewell, My Queen's trailer may have made it look like your typical costume drama, but it is not. If I had to describe it in a sentence, I would steal from Nathaniel Rogers' great review and say "French Revolution: Downton Abbey Edition".

Like the british television show, 'Farewell, My Queen' provides an upstairs/downstairs look at the relationship between Queen Marie-Antoinette (Diane Kruger) and the young Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux, who you might recognize from 'Midnight in Paris' or 'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol'), a servant whose job consists mainly of suggesting books and reading to the queen. This relationship isn't exactly horizontal, as in Sidonie works for the Queen. She shows incredible admiration and fondness for the queen; while to Marie-Antoinette, no matter how close they get in Sidonie's eyes, she will always be just a servant. Like the servants in 'Downton Abbey' (and presumably real life) she has no life, she's a nobody that lives through her employer. 

The film takes place around the storming of the Bastille fortress on July 14th 1789. The revolutionary backdrop is the reason it's so fascinating to explore a character like Sidonie. She is trapped between two worlds. She is, like the revolutionaries, a commoner who would need several lives' salaries to pay a clock. But at the same time, she serves the Queen, her life begins and ends at Versailles, at her service -and what's more- she has a tremendous affection for the monarch. 

The people of France demand for the Queen's head and they aren't very fond of her dear friend, and rumored lover, Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) either. Marie-Antoinette feels partially responsible for the people's hatred of Polignac and can barely hide the feelings the whole situation generates in her. In an absolute monarchy, everything revolves around the King and Queen. Whoever is closer to them, is closer of having his or her life fulfilled. This film is very much about this kind of relationship between the people and the monarch. How the monarch relates to her most beloved friend (or lover?) and to a humble servant. How do each of these women feel about each other? Discovering that is part of the delight of the film, but I will say that Seydoux gives an amazing performance and keeps you guessing what are Sidonie's real emotions towards the Queen. 

I doubt 'Farewell, My Queen' will get a theatrical release in most places, but it is a very good film and deserves to be seen. Don't doubt watching it as soon as you have the chance to. 

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