The storm is coming, but they have no idea on what will happen to them and their world. It is July 14th, 1789, and everything looks fine just like any other day to the people in the royal palace of Versailles, but we all know that their insulated decadent world will be turned upside down within a few days – and most of them will not be lucky enough to survive in this massive historical storm which will not only sweep them all and but also topple the class system they have depended on and been accustomed to for years.
While confining its viewpoint nearly within the Versailles, “Farewell, My Queen” tells its story through a young woman named Sidonie Laborde(Léa Seydoux), one of the servants living and working in the Versailles. Her job, reading books for Marie Antoinette(Diane Kruger), looks simple, but Madame Campan(Noémie Lvovsky from “Camille Rewinds”(2012)) is very serious about this menial job. Before Sidonie enters the room, they discuss on which book to read for the queen, and, though this talk turns out to be not very useful, we can sense that this pointless discussion has been a part of the daily routine between them.
Like any good servants serving for the system they belong to, Sidonie has a strong belief in the system while never doubting about it. Whether it is out of love or loyalty, she is so devoted to her queen that she is almost blind to her mistress’ superficiality. When the queen shows a little care to her, Sidonie is pleased to get her royal kindness, but, unlike us, she does not realize that the queen merely regards her as one of the objects surrounding and serving for her in the Versailles. While everything is being taken care of for her, the queen starts going through another luxurious day as usual in her small comfortable world, and she is utterly ignorant of what is going on outside the palace.
When she is not paying attention to what to wear or what to get, the queen’s attention is mostly focused on the Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac(Virginie Ledoyen), who has maintained her high position in the palace through the queen’s deep affection to her. Everyone in the palace knows how manipulative the Duchess is, but the queen is oblivious to that because of her infatuation with the Duchess, and the movie implies that they may be a lot more than close friends.
The movie was actually shot in the Versailles, and it gives us an interesting perspective on its place and time as Sidonie moves around the place. The palace looks grand and splendid with its wide gardens and sumptuous interior designs, and the nobles looks good in their lavishing clothes, but there are also the ungainly sights hidden around the palace. The living places of Sidonie and other servants look plain and sparse, and only notable thing in Sidonie’s room is an expensive clock to help her keeping with her daily routine exactly as demanded.
We also observe the hygienic condition of the palace, it is not particularly good. Mosquito bite is a common thing during summer days, and Sidonie sees dead rat twice during one day, but she does not look that surprised, if disgusted. Compared to the gorgeous halls and corridors of the palace, the kitchen looks more like a dungeon, and we see Sidonie and other servants enjoying their meals together in this place with some good leftover from their masters’ dinners.
July 14th normally goes on for everyone like that, and then their world starts to be shaken by a disturbing news from the outside on the next day. A massive riot was started in Paris during the previous night, and then more alarming news and rumors are spread around the palace and its people. It seems the whole nation is quickly being hurled into chaos after the fall of the Bastille, and, while some people instantly leave the palace for saving themselves, others just remain in the palace with the king and the queen. They are not awakened to the fact yet that their world is crumbling now, and neither is Sidonie, who sticks to her position like many of her fellow servants.
The sense of doom looms over them as well as the nobles while things are becoming rapidly worse and worse. The night is full of worried faces in the candlelight, and, while doing her job as ordered, Sidonie also tries to get any information about what is going on in the outside. She is not stupid, but, unlike a wise, aging archivist(Michel Robin) friendly to her, she does not have a clear view on the whole circumstance, and we know that there would not be much she can do even if she really understood what is happening to her and others in the palace.
Based on the novel by Chantal Thomas, the director/co-screenplay writer Benoît Jacquot made an engaging movie which can be a good companion piece to Sophia Coppola’s underrated film “Marie Antoinette”(2006). Like “Farewell, My Queen”, “Marie Antoinette” spends most of its time inside the Versailles while observing the decadent ennui inside the lavishing and reckless lifestyle of young Marie Antoinette and others, and “Farewell, My Queen” looks like the next story coming after that. As a woman who has been hopelessly stuck in her lofty mindset for many years, Diane Kruger gives a good performance which makes her character pathetic but somewhat sympathetic; the queen has her own feelings, and we have some pity on her because of her tragic end to come, but she is still a self-absorbed woman more concerned about her private matters than the urgent public matter which will soon swallow up her and her family and others.
As the center of the story, Léa Seydoux, who has steadily been gaining our attention since she appeared in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”(2011), holds our interest with another good performance as a smart girl who is open to the demands given to her but remains elusive to us until the very end. The final scene, which is presented with amusing irony, reveals to us the main reason why she adamantly clings to her sinking world despite what she has seen and observed from her queen and others, but that means nothing as before – and we know that it will be completely obliterated along with her world in the end.