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Opening in Versailles on July 14, 1789, the date of the storming of the Bastille, the film depicts the following three days of escalating panic and crumbling loyalties as realisation of the old regime’s impending collapse spreads through the royal halls. Certainly rich material for a juicy period piece, but Jacquot is intent on keeping the sensationalism muted. This approach, rather than offering a novel portrayal of a much-reviewed period of history, in effect just dulls it terribly.
Almost entirely set within the palace, the story unfolds primarily from the perspective of Sidonie Laborde (Seydoux), Marie Antoinette’s devoted reader. The film’s dramatic focus is her unrequited love for her queen, who is herself hopelessly enamoured of the Duchess de Polignac (Ledoyen). This love triangle fails to generate any pathos however, thanks both to Sidonie’s complete lack of personality (or of much discernible emotion beyond a permanent sulky pout) and to Kruger’s over-theatrical performance as Marie Antoinette, which alternates between grating and farcical.
The film does include some inspired scenes in its depiction of the lily-livered aristocrats, as when they are grouped together in a hallway at night, trembling in their nightgowns as they frantically search for their names on the list of heads claimed by the people. Too bad these elements are relegated to the background of a tedious and fictional love story rendered no less insipid by having clear symbolic overtones.
Les adieux à la reine (Leb wohl, meine Königin!) | Directed by Benoît Jacquot (France, Spain 2012) with Léa Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen. Starts May 31