Benoît Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen is aesthetically gorgeous, with corseted breasts, shocks of light interrupting the dank darkness of cellar quarters and underground passageways, costumes with more layers than the world’s biggest onion, and the ornate fetishization that comes with any period piece. It’s Versailles, shit’s fancy. A subject like Marie Antoinette, whose Reputation warrants its own Wikipedia k-hole, seems ripe for smut. Did you know champagne stemware, specifically the champagne coup, was modeled on the breast of the Queen? Seriously. ‘Lavish’ and ‘lascivious’ are two words that come to mind in relation to Antoinette’s lifestyle (and rumored sexuality), and both require a gesturing of the tongue and lips to pronounce their playful suggestion. Was she queer? Did she have affairs? Was she a total cunt? Probably. These questions should make for a perverse biography. Sofia Coppola’s own Marie Antoinette almost got it right, with a depiction that felt like coming down from a sugar rush while watching a period piece version of Clueless, but there was a sweat missing to Antoinette’s life, and Coppola’s virginization felt like a lie. In Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen, Antoinette’s sexuality is almost as hotly debated as the storming of the Bastille, but the predicament of being a queer woman of royalty falls silent to the film’s focus on politics. It’s too bad. What could have been gold in the hands of someone like John Waters becomes redundancy in the hands of Jacquot.
This version of Marie Antoinette (played by a severe-looking Diane Kruger, her skin-and-bones appearance a total joke in the time of cake) is a bipolar/ADD mess. Her manic highs are expressed through excitement over fabrics and the different women who come into her life; her lows expressed via co-dependent relationships with practically everyone and a slightly psychotic infatuation with Gabrille de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen in a totally forgettable performance). Her reader, Sidonie (Léa Seydoux), watches this infatuation from doorways, behind curtains, lending an erotic voyeurism made creepy a la Single White Female. Seydoux’s smart performance recognizes the dynamics of class and feminine hierarchies as tinged with jealousy, hate, desire, and love, and can (should) be played with sly manipulation. Seydoux has fun warping feminism, devoting Sidonie to her Queen’s pathologies as an unquestioning slave. It’s easy to read this devotion as love, which it is, but it’s also indicative of how incapable even dyke love is from defeating hierarchies. We invented the class system and we will die from it. Not even queerness can subvert class.
A much better film could have been made if Jaquot had found a balanced parallel between the storming of the Bastille and Sidonie’s attempt to simultaneously possess her Queen and annihilate herself. But no balance is found. Instead, the majority of the film takes place between messengers bringing news of the Bastille and clumsy close-ups of Sidonie’s concernced face. Farewell, My Queen is another boring palace flick. There is a nice scene where Sidonie is forced to undress as Antoinette nervously checks out her tits, but the sexuality is relatively numb and vanilla. Maybe one day John Waters or even Catherine Breillat will make something great, dishonoring the memory of Antoinette with every orifice. Please let it be called Love in the Time of Cake.