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Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen (2012) - Jacquot

Having your cake, but not eating it.

Two primes for the film; literally within the opening seconds of the film the average French viewer has already skipped ahead in the story and is anticipating a lot of the gruesome details. So the director immediately subverts their expectations by making the main character of his film, a lowly servant girl. Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) who—rather than thirsting for a better world—is already walking on sunshine being this close to her Majesty (Diane Kruger) and could care a whit about anything happening outside the palace gates. Unfortunately, this curve ball will completely baffle North American audiences.

Secondly, this is a hugely internal film. Perhaps self-effacement is a skill all the best palace servants learn, but Sidonie does them one better with a great poker face. She guards her secrets well. Although she may actually be swooning with delight on the inside, she appears totally unemotional when the Queen transgresses the boundaries of master and servant.

As with all Jacquot films, you can knock the premise over with a feather. Will Sidonie get a chance to prove her undying devotion, and more importantly, will the Queen notice? La-di-dah. La-di-dah.

She's a little clumsy. She needs to take a few lessons from Rachel McAdams, who could star in her own super hero franchise: high heel girl. She runs a little late, hence the gold clock from the Queen's head servant to keep her on time. Her first awakening gesture is to look at the time; this immediately orients her to those times in the day when the Queen may call for her. She's one of those original zero hour workers, who have to remain available for any work at a moment's notice, yet may not be called for days or weeks.

The film is essentially a construct of a certain time and a certain place. Life at the royal court has been codified into routine and official protocol over the years, but within a matter of days it all begins to fall apart. There's a collective freak-out when the servants learn the King has been awakened during the night. These scenes of quiet panic and disintegration are at the film's core.

I liked the little disappearances in the film. Someone is suddenly no longer there in the morning; that aristocrat that needs his morning coffee to jump start his busy day is utterly lost when that seemingly unimportant servant is gone. Even if the noble was a take charge kind of a guy, he wouldn't know how to work the coffee machine, and secondly, he wouldn't know where the kitchen was.

And far from being some sort of monster, Marie Antoinette is just one of the unfortunate few who's was given mind boggling wealth which allowed all her slightest desires to be seriously entertained. Hence, boredom would be her most compelling occupation. She's like a little machine constantly churning out capricious demands. I loved her mild distraction when someone shows up breathlessly only minutes later with the object of her desire—she's already forgotten what she's asked for.

In "Broadcast news", there's a little scene where William Hurt asks Albert Brooks: what happens when your life begins to outstrip your dreams? Brooks (clearly annoyed by the question) says: Keep it to yourself. Imagine the world's paparazzi focused on a single person. Marie Antoinette becomes a lightning rod and the symbol of all that is hated in the monarchy. Absurdly, a pamphlet shows up at the palace with a listing of the most egregious members of the aristocracy; Marie Antoinette and her small circle of friends top the list.

Most of the scenes have enough depth for them to be interpreted in opposite ways. The film opens with the buzzing of a mosquito. Versailles is either flush with blood suckers, or flush with putrefaction. In contrast to the palace's highly functioning rumor mill; there are many individuals who know exactly which way the wind is blowing, but their personal investment will bind them in place—either to the bitter end—or for a little while longer. The King's historian is especially poignant, he knows precisely what he's documenting.

Through-out the film, Sidonie has been slightly favored and enjoying privileges above her position―that social climbing has been noticed and disapproved of by certain servants. In the end, her fall is complete, she's been stripped of all rank, the ultimate humiliation is when another servant sees this and within a matter of days, everyone will learn of her great disgrace.

Farewell, My Queen -