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July 11, 2012

Les adieux à la reine

by Franz Patrick


Adieux à la reine, Les (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

As the common people of France threatened to usurp Louis XVI (Xavier Beauvois), Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), the Queen’s reader, remained fiercely loyal to Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). Despite the political turmoil unraveling in Paris, however, most of the whispers in and around Versailles involved the Queen having a secret lover: a woman named Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). When a list of 286 people that needed to be beheaded in order to bring about reform surfaced, panic loomed over Versailles like an incurable disease. Although “Farewell, My Queen,” based on the novel by Chantal Thomas, was a period drama on the surface, it felt like a suspense-thriller due to its careful attention to the reactions of people facing a possible change so monumental, it threatened their very existence because most of them defined their lives within the roles they played in Versailles. Coupled with sparse but unsettling background music as the characters waded through enticing rumors and alarming truths, the material was inundated with intrigue. Whether the camera focused its attention on the members of the royal family, those who wielded some sort of power, or the lowly servants, it had something to say about fear with respect to one’s place in the hierarchy. I loved watching Seydoux because it looked like the character she brought to life was always thinking about something. When she pouted just so slightly, was she formulating a way to escape? Was her determination to prove that she was loyal to the Queen a type of subterfuge she learned from the books she deeply coveted? Were her feelings toward the Queen more about a romantic attraction than duty? I found Sidonie’s many contradictions quite fascinating because although she looked like a petulant tyro fighter, there were tender moments that rang true–times when she could no longer keep up the façade of having to swallow the orders that she was required to obey. As a secretive but sharp young woman, Sidonie didn’t say much but I found it curious that she almost treasured the invisible chains that Marie Antoinette had around her neck. The screenplay nicely highlighted her loyalty as a contrast against, for example, men and women who ran away in the middle of the night or, worse, those who chose to stay and leech off when no one in power was looking. As someone who doesn’t know much about the history about King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, I appreciated that the picture established an atmosphere so magnetic, I didn’t feel lost or confused about whatever was happening. Because the fears and stresses of the characters were consistently at the forefront, the minute historical details felt less critical to my enjoyment of the story. However, I wished that there were more smaller scenes between Marie Antoinette and Gabrielle. The big scenes that they shared failed to impact or interest me when compared directly against Sidonie and Marie Antoinette just being alone in a room, almost whispering to each other. Although tears were shed, the feelings between the lovers felt too light which made the events near the end not as powerful as they could have been. Directed by Benoît Jacquot, “Les adieux à la reine” chose wisely in exploring the depths of human emotions over showcasing wild, pavonine dresses and big curtains that matched the walls. While the aesthetics can be appreciated, they never distracted and were only noticeable in the right moments.

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