LITTLE ROCK Benoit Jacquot Farewell, My Queen R, 100 minutes
During that awful snowbound week in Little Rock between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we watched a lot of movies at my house. Most of them were mediocre; a few were flat-out dreadful. Then along came Farewell, My Queen.
A tantalizing, exciting and gorgeous insiders’ view of the start of the French Revolution, the drama, directed by Benoit Jacquot, is set in the glittering royal court of Versailles in 1789 (where much of it was filmed) during the reign of Louis XVI and his Austrian-born queen Marie-Antoinette. News of the storming of Bastille reaches the court, causing many servants - fearing the toppling of the government - to head in panic for the door.
Mademoiselle Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux) is not among them. She is Marie-Antoinette’s reader (and a skilled embroiderer, although, knowing that the queen prefers decoration to literature, she doesn’t want that to become known). She describes herself as “The servant of the books of her majesty’s library” and of the queen in general, whom she adores.
The queen (played by Diane Kruger) is portrayed here as a bit of an airhead, beautiful in her lavish gowns and extraordinary hairstyles and happy to indulge herself with whatever frivolity strikes her fancy, including an apparent fling with the uppity Duchesse de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).
But this is no time for frivolity, especially if you’re a French royal. A list of 286 aristocrats who deserve beheading, compiled by the rebellious common folk, makes its rounds of the palace. As the court prepares to decamp for the relative safety of Metz in northeast France, alliances are made and broken among the remaining servants in order to stay on whichever side is most likely to come out victorious. Members of the queen’s entourage are so resigned to her fate that they sink to stealing her silken camisoles during the packing process. But Sidonie’s devotion remains steadfast to her queen.
As the court intrigue heightens, so does the unrest in France. Seeing the four days that lead to the queen’s departure unfold through the eyes of Sidonie allows the viewer to share her increasing sense of dread, the same as would be felt by anyone whose fate is in the hands of others.
As if the situation isn’t tough enough, Sidonie’s queen makes a request of her to play a role that puts her in even more danger but, because of her devotion, she can’t refuse.
Like the best historical dramas, knowing the outcome of Farewell, My Queen does nothing to take away from the film’s ability to enthrall - especially when you’re snowed in.
A Late Quartet (not rated, 105 minutes) - A much-admired cellist and member of a renowned Manhattan string quartet receives a startling medical diagnosis, which sets off an emotional fury among the group that threatens to destroy years of friendship, collaboration and chamber music. With Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Jeremy Northam, Christopher Walken; directed by Yaron Zilberman. “Bereft of car chases, explosions and blonde bimbos, A Late Quartet relies instead on the interplay of great actors and an intelligent script to deliver an emotionally resonant and redemptive tale about life, adversity and the importance of compromise and collaboration in the making of beautiful music,” says entertainment reporter Bruce DeMara in The Toronto Star.
Cloud Atlas (R, 172 minutes) - A complicated film, loved by some and heartily disliked by others, Cloud Atlas explores, through six core stories, how actions and consequences of individuals affect others throughout the past, present and future. Cast members (who play anywhere from four to eight roles each) include Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw. Directors are Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Unlike the book by David Mitchell on which the film is based, “The movie doesn’t have discrete episodes,” says critic David Edelstein for NPR.org. “Every one of its stories is interwoven with every other - it’s an epic hash of criss-crossing fragments tied together by music in a vain attempt at fluidity. I found it disjointed, distractingly busy; unlike the book, it telegraphs the theme from its first scene on.” If you need help sorting everything out, the Blu-ray includes an extended first look and directors’ commentary, a trailer, three TV spots and a featurette.
Celeste and Jesse Forever (R, 91 minutes) - This well regarded romantic comedy concerns a couple who met in high school, married young and are growing apart. So they decide to get divorced and stay best friends while pursuing other relationships. “There are time-honored formulas for romantic comedies, and Celeste and Jesse Forever avoids them,” says Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. “It begins with a group of believable modern Los Angelinos, embeds them in a fantasy and then introduces a plot twist that’s both unexpected and devastating to their cozy routine.” With Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Chris Messina; directed by Lee Toland Krieger.
Karen Martin is a Little Rock based writer and critic. E-mail her at email@example.com
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 02/08/2013
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