Friday, September 7, 2012


Director Benoit Jacquot’s atmospheric, intimate film begins on July 14, 1789, the day Parisians stormed the Bastille and commenced a violent uprising that rippled throughout France and engulfed the monarchy and aristocracy.  The horrors of that day are never seen, but the news travels in terrified (and occasionally graphic) whispers to the estate in Versailles where Louis XVI (Xavier Beauvois) and Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) reside with their attendant nobles.  That day begins like most others for Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux).  She scurries to the royal apartments, is scolded by lady-in-waiting Mme Campan (Noémie Lvovsky), and reads to her self-absorbed queen.  The young woman covets her access to Marie Antoinette and suspects that her benefactor may secretly desire more from her.  Sidonie’s fantasy has some basis, since rumors swirl linking the queen romantically to married friend Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).  This inappropriate behavior is but one item in a long list of grievances against the queen and the government.  After their success at the Bastille, the rebels circulate a death list upon which the names of the royals and many of the resident aristocracy, including M de Polignac, reside.  Sidonie learns this inside information from archivist Jacob Nicolas Moreau (Michel Robin), a confidante also marked for death.  This world of which Sidonie so desperately wants to be a part has begun to crumble.  The screenplay by Gilles Taurand and Jacquot (from the novel by Chantal Thomas) takes Sidonie’s point of view, and therefore our understanding of the dire situation often feels incomplete.  Yet this only adds to the anxiety and dread.  Like the sheltered aristocrats whose names have been listed, we feel confused, blindsided and left helpless by outside events.  Jacquot never excuses the nobility’s vacuity but quietly reveals the humanity lurking beneath the surface.  Seydoux and, particularly, Lvovsky are wonderful.  But Kruger’s performance towers above all others and offers a compelling glimpse of the shrewd, passionate woman trapped within the perfectly coiffed exterior.

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