“Catherine Deneuve singing (and, yes, twirling a wind-blown umbrella) on a Paris street is one of many sublime pleasures of the 17th Annual Boston French Film Festival running July 12-29 at the Museum of Fine Arts,” begins the Globe. “This edition of the festival is particularly strong, not just for Deneuve’s meta moments in Christophe Honoré’s mournful musical Beloved, but also for a fine directorial debut by popular actor Daniel Auteuil and several dramas based on true events handled with a signature French mix of bravura and restraint.” Besides Beloved, the Globe also briefly previews Auteuil’s The Well-Digger’s Daughter, Vincent Garenq’s Guilty, Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s 17 Girls, Lucas Belvaux‘s 38 Witnesses, Pierre Schöeller’s The Minister, and Remi Bezancon’s A Happy Event.
The festival opens tonight with Farewell, My Queen, followed by a discussion with director Benoît Jacquot. This “soapy, sexy, and lezzie adaptation of Chantal Thomas’s 2003 novel about the chaos at Versailles on the eve of the 1789 revolution is told not through the vantage point of the monarchs,” notes Melissa Anderson in the Voice, “but through the eyes of Sidonie (Léa Seydoux), the besotted reader to Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger).”
“Information is the principal currency at Versailles,” writes Marshall Yarbrough for Cinespect. “Hurrying after characters, jerkily swooping and zooming in on whispered conversations, the camera itself seems eager for news. Early in the film, the King is awakened in the middle of the night with news of the attack on the Bastille, and even before dawn the hallways are abuzz with rumors. Sidonie and her fellow servants barter for information, swapping favors for news.”
“The air of elegant sleaze and underhanded conflict at times recalls Fassbinder,” suggests Jesse Cataldo in Slant, “and parallels Sidonie’s discovery of the palace’s sordid state of incestuous decadence. It also helps in the construction of a nested puzzle about power and control, with the camera leering at bare flesh and gaudy surfaces, the irate public lusting over the monarchy’s power, and the gradually ascendant Sidonie simply trying to keep afloat, preserving her dignity while eventually carving out a small space for herself. She begins the film as a servant, and in many ways ends it as one, but the shifting state of the world leaves her as the victor.”
More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema), Ela Bittencourt (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B), and Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, 3/5). Interviews with Jacquot: David Ehrenstein here in Keyframe, of course, Brandon Harris (Filmmaker), and Yama Rahimi (Ioncinema).
Updates, 7/15: “This is the first of Mr. Jacquot’s movies to be released in the United States in several years, and it’s a welcome return,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Mr. Jacquot has always been a sensitive director of actresses, his sympathies evident in his caressing, sometimes ogling camerawork and the time and space he gives women and their stories. That sympathy is evident here too, though crucially, while he doesn’t demonize Marie Antoinette, he doesn’t turn her into a spurious feminist martyr. He tends not to trumpet his politics; he does brandish a few dead rats, some of Versailles’s other inhabitants. But because he shows you what Sidonie sees in the queen—and what the queen sees in Gabrielle—he finds truths beyond the era’s misogynist propaganda.”
Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline: “The picture’s painterly production design and cinematography (by Katia Wyszkop and Romain Winding, respectively) ensure that everything is gorgeous to look at, but Jacquot never lets the picture slide into total sterility—even the sight of Seydoux scratching her mosquito bites is vaguely libidinous.”