By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 19, 2012 at 4:23PM
There's a reason why French director Benoit Jacquot's "Farewell My Queen" (July 13) was chosen to open the Berlin and San Francisco Film Festivals, as well as making its North American debut at COLCOA this week. The period movie, set in 1789 on the verge of Bastille Day, is an intimate and sexy period spectacle that takes us backstage at Versailles and into territory Sofia Coppola was not willing to go. Jacquot was entranced by Chantal Thomas's 2002 novel, a feminist take on Marie Antoinette told from the point-of-view of "la lectrice de la reine," who reads books to her queen. Jacquot loved the idea of making a film from a feminine point-of-view at a time when most films focus on men. (Trailer below.)
While Coppola was looking at fifteen years in the life of Antoinette, Jacquot takes four days at the end of her life. This time, the Queen (Diane Kruger) is madly in love--not with her neglectful husband, King Louis the XVI (Xavier Beauvois), with whom she has two children--but with best chum Gabrielle di Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen).
Watching her queen's reaction to the unfolding Revolution is her loyal reader, Sidonie Laborde, played by Lea Seydoux ("Midnight in Paris"). Laborde is a much younger and more fetching wench than the 50ish reader in Thomas's book. Seydoux reminded Jacquot of someone who could have been painted by Renoir. "She brought this carnal dimension," he says. "She has incontrovertible sex appeal."
The lesbian slant on Antoinette's passion for Polignac "was a probability," says Jacquot. "It is not certain, but we know through the historical archives and letters of the period that women in aristocracy in that time exalted the exchange between women. Using your imagination, you could go much further and take a more intimate angle. In my point-of-view, why not?"
Jacquot, who has made numerous documentaries as well as period films, many of them for television, brings a contemporary feel to the filmmaking. "I look at the film as if it's happening now," he says, "not in the past, through the actors." He dressed them in accurate Christian Gasc costumes (gorgeously Oscar-worthy) and placed them in Versailles (the back rooms were done, like Coppola's, in castles nearby), and asked them to inhabit those people "until the costume is no longer a costume."