Starring Lea Seydoux, Diane Kruger. Written by Benoît Jacquot, Gilles Taurand, Chantal Thomas. Directed by Benoît Jacquot. PG. 96 min. Opens Aug. 24.
“I’ve known you four years, and yet I know nothing about you.” That charge is levied against the central figure in Farewell, My Queen late in the film, and it’s a fitting sentiment: Even after spending nearly 90 minutes with Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), you feel as though she’s still something of a mystery. Happily, this doesn’t prevent her from being a compelling character, and it adds a dose of realism to this otherwise impressionistic fictionalized period drama set during the eve of the French Revolution.
Seydoux’s Sidonie is the official reader for Marie Antoinette (played by Inglourious Basterds’ extra-fabulous German movie star/traitor, Diane Kruger), and as such she’s one of the many servants intermittently privy to the impending doom heading towards the royal family. She’s also the unrequited third point in a love triangle involving the Queen and the Duchess de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). Among the Queen’s many immediate concerns—new embroideries, fleeing for her life—she’s most distraught over endangering the life of her not-so-secret lover, the Duchess. Thus it’s Sidonie who tries to comfort the Queen while also bearing witness to Her Majesty’s increasingly distraught whims and dealing with her own barely-concealed heartbreak.
French director Benoît Jacquot, who previously delved into historical dramas about the Marquis de Sade and Marie Bonaparte, depicts the end of Marie Antoinette’s reign through shots of cavernous hallways and a near-constant reverberation of gossip. While the occasional Blair Witch-style point-of-view shots are unnecessarily jarring, most of the story comes across with a naturalistic grittiness that’s a welcome departure from Sofia Coppola’s stylishly bombastic 2006 film, Marie Antoinette. And even if we’re left without a significant amount of new insight into the Queen’s downfall—or about the character who provides the window into this royal world—the time spent in their presence is heads above most period dramas.