Lea Seydoux in "Farewell My Queen"
The Berlin Film Festival got off to a more than respectable start with “Farewell My Queen,” Benoit Jacquot’s smart, elegantly mounted costume drama about the court of Versailles as it’s about to be swept away by the French revolution. Shot partly in the actual palace, and making grand use of dark, dank, candlelit corridors and stairwells filled with increasingly panicky nobles and household staff, “Farewell My Queen” has an intriguing protagonist in Lea Seydoux, who plays a lowly reader to Diane Kruger’s Sapphic-tinted Marie Antoinette, finding her swoony loyalty to the mercurial queen severely tested. It’s stalwart costume drama fare, with an old-school approach, but intelligent crafting and provocative plotting keep it engaging. It already has a US distributor in Cohen Media and they may well benefit from Seydoux’s growing profile (propelled along by the icy assassin she played in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”), as well as the inherent appeal of its subject matter to an upscale audience and the current vogue for upstairs-downstairs storylines.
Kristen Sheridan’s “Dollhouse” is a very different beast from her previous film, “August Rush,” taking an experimental, extensively improvised approach to the story of a gang of delinquent, druggy Irish teens who invade and thoroughly trash a beach house while its well-heeled owners are away. One of “Dollhouse”’s many strange twists is that it turns out to be the family home of one of the jubilant home-wreckers. Sheridan allows the story to bounce around with as much erratic unpredictability as her protagonists, often to the point of confusion, but go with its cavalier flow and it ends up delivering quite an emotional kick. The youth-oriented project will get its first US airing at SXSW next month, but the absence of name actors and chaotic approach might leave it struggling to hook Stateside distributors.
Rebecca Thomas’ debut film “Electrick Children” spins a quirky tale about a Mormon girl from a strict religious household who believes she has conceived immaculately, thanks to the transporting power of a catchy pop song, and runs off to Las Vegas with the brother who gets the blame in tow. There, they fall in with the world’s nicest rock band (including Rory Culkin), leading to some kind and gentle fish-out-of-water comedy and bright-lights adventures. “Children”’s most winning element is undoubtedly newcomer Julia Garner. With her blonde ringlets and ethereal, wide-eyed presence, she’s an actress we’re likely to see plenty more of in future.
Finnish sci-fi spoof “Iron Sky” has been a hot ticket. Nazis hiding out on the moon who decide to invade earth? What’s not to like? But although it battles valiantly to live up to its demented B-movie premise, it mostly ends up feeling like a missed opportunity. The big budget -- by Finnish standards -- delivers an amusingly tacky aesthetic, but the script only manages to be sporadically amusing. Still, it’s got "cult" written all over it and could well lure a small-scale buyer.
The real-life cases of Natascha Kampusch and the Fritzl clan continue to inspire European filmmakers to plunge into the extreme situations of enforced captivity. “Coming Home” focuses on 17-year-old Gaelle (Agathe Bonitzer) and how she copes after suddenly being released by her taciturn captor (Reda Kateb), interspersed with flashbacks of her largely dull captivity (which remains non-sexual). While clearly a disturbing premise, it’s never as illuminating or unsettling as other films that have broached the same topic, containing, for instance, less of the stylistic and storytelling rigour of the Austrian film “Michael,” which played Cannes last year. It looks unlikely to travel far beyond festival confines.