It is time to start brushing up on the French you learned in high school. Farewell My Queen isthe newest film by French director Benoît Jacquot, who most recently brought A Tout de Suite to America in 2005, and will be opening in limited release on Friday, July 13, after a stateside debut in April’s film festivals in San Francisco and Minneapolis.
Adapted from Chantal Thomas’s 2002 novel of the same name, Farewell, My Queen depicts the life of King Louis XVI’s wife Marie Antoinette during the first three days of the French Revolution. Fans of Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette will surely be eager to return to Versailles. Yet those who wonder whether the story has been told before can breathe easy: It’s never been told like this..
Rather than centering the film around Marie Antoinette herself as Coppola did, Jacquot has chosen to focus on the character of the queen’s reader, Sidonie Laborde. Played by Léa Seydoux, who one critic called “a rising French star with a real shot at an American career,” the character of Sidonie is s the Nick Carraway to Diane Kruger’s Gatsby-like Marie Antoinette. She observes the decadence of Versailles and the tumult of the Revolution from the outside as a servant.
The lesbian undertones of the film are already creating buzz. Its primary love triangle involves Sidonie’s toxic infatuation with Marie Antoinette, who finds herself enthralled by Virginie Ledoyen’s Ducess Gabrielle de Polignac.
If “Marie Antoinette: Lesbian” sounds as kitsch a premise as “Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” think again. Jon Frosch for The Atlantic wrote of the sexual undertones: “rather than play up the latent (and sometimes not-so-latent) lesbianism for cheap effect, Jacquot smartly focuses on the toxic relationships … between the various classes of French society.” Sexual tension being used as a metaphor for social tensions? Sounds like the perfect thing for the Occupy Era.
The film has garnered a number of positive reviews, frequently praised for the closeness with which the film approaches its actresses, both physically and psychologically. Richard Brody from the New Yorker wrote that “if [Jacquot’s] camera pressed any closer to them, it would be subcutaneous. The director and his actresses achieve a fevered intimacy.”
I, for one, am excited to see a film that focuses on women; that uses homoerotic subtext not merely to titillate, but also to make a larger point; and that presents a look at the way the French Revolution would have affected members of the different classes. In an election year in which “Class Warfare” is a buzzword, the film should have an immediacy and relevance not often found in period pieces.