Opening 31 May 2012
Here we have a few days in the life of Marie Antoinette immediately before and after July 14, 1789, or around the storming of the Bastille and beginning of the French revolution. The title infers a goodbye (farewell) to this French queen, on – as we are all familiar – the guillotine. No so. In this film Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) is alive and well in Versailles, although she rarely leaves her royal rooms. She is surrounded by ladies-in-waiting and has nothing to do but leaf through the equivalent of 18th century fashion magazines. To survive really boring moments, she calls for Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), who reads aloud from books out of the library; Sidonie knows the wise, grey-haired librarian very well.
Sidonie is the real star and appears in almost every frame as she has free access to the poor, dark back-stair rooms of the sevants, as well as the glamorous gold- and silk-decorated luxury suites of the queen. Through her we see the reactions of royalty to the budding revolution (little reaction), and the worried distress among the lower ranks. There is a lot of running around along the long corridors and conversations in French, German and English. It is intimated that Marie Antoinette was a lesbian, in love with Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). The queen orchestrates the escape of Gabrielle and her family to Switzerland, using Sidonie as a stand-in for this duchess while Gabrielle pretends to be the maid. The measure of truth in the film is not important. Important and very impressive are the gorgeous costumes and interior decorations. Based on the book of the same title by Chantal Thomas, directed by Benoît Jacquot, Les Adieux à la Reine opened the 2012 Berlinale film festival. This was not the first film about MA, and will certainly not be the last. (Becky Tan)