This was not a true historical documentary of the last three days before the palace in Versailles was seized, and Marie-Antoinette was captured and prisoned in Paris during the storming of the Bastille. This was a film based on a fictional novel by Chantal Thomas, and through the eyes of a loyal servant, la lectrice (reader), Agathe-Sidonie Laborde(Léa Seydoux). Her motto was “I obey the Queen”, which told it all. Marie Antoinette(Diane Kruger) scandalous lesbian affair was shown through the emotions experienced by the Queen, from hysteria down to physiological malaise. Kudos to Diane Kruger (Inglorious Basterds)! Sidonie developed a strong transference while reading to the Queen, beside the divan, or whenever she was at close proximity. She became the surrogate of the Queen’s lover only in senses. Most intriguingly, she accepted it, and never turned it into a gossip piece among other servants, where gossips were txtings in today’s context. Kudos to Léa Seydoux(Midnight in Paris, MI: Ghost Protocol), her facial expressions transcended sadness, excitement, nervousness, desires, and despairs: a remarkable pale and pretty face.
Opulent palace interior, vast courtyards, and rats infested channel with Gondolier riding in a Gondola set the scenery of the normal life in Versailles. Those days would soon represent a bygone era of excess, disconnect, and we/them. In fact, the brightness of the exterior was served as a mise en relief of what were really going on in the deep and dark strata of the palace: servant quarters, and they were no Downton Abbey’s! Sidonie had a bed, and a peasant three drawers commode, and a borrowed antique clock.
The servants had no running water to bathe regularly, so stealing drops of perfume was the only way to keep fresh. Imagine what normal citizens had to endure (the streets in Les Misérables would be an à propos reflection of such condition).
Sidonie works in the library with her mentor, the Royal librarian, M.Moreau(Michel Robin). He teaches her politics, poems, and literature. She is probably the most independent and intelligent among others in the quarters. Most of the day, she waits for the call from the Queen to enter the palace. To prove her subservient dedication to the Queen, she stops abruptly while making out with the Gondolier, Paolo(Vladimir Consigny), and dashes to the Queen’s side. Interestingly, Paolo also bedded the Duchess, Gabrielle de Polignac(Virginie Ledoyen), admitted in his own volition while riding Sidonie in his Gondola. Perhaps, Sidonie pulls Paolo out of a crowd, and pushes herself against him, is done only out of spite, so as to get even on behalf of the Queen, for he messed with the Queen’s lover. A man may use his sword, a woman uses lust, as weapon.
As hours pass by, fleeting carriages, dropped baggages take over the once quiet and desolated front yard. The King, Louis XVI (Xavier Beauvois) has volunteered to go to Paris. Marie-Antoinette is awaiting news from the King and plotting her next move. She understands her future will not be bright; therefore, to show her great and true love for Gabrielle, she arranges Sidonie to impersonate the Duchesse, so that Gabrielle will escape from being beheaded, and to Swiss.
I can’t wait to find the novel and start reading it. Sensuality is best served over pages of well crafted proses. Hence, most literature falls flat on screen.
WATCH… only a French director(Benoît Jacquot) can bring out his own country’s historical nuances.