Léa Seydoux is the type of French “it” girl who comes around every generation: bored, pouty-faced, no-nonsense, relentlessly unsmiling, oozing sex. In the ‘90s, we had Virginie Ledoyen, who toughened up Olivier Assayas’ Cold Water and Benoit Jacquot’s A Single Girl, with the odd Hollywood stint (The Beach, opposite DiCaprio). It was inevitable that Jacquot, whose protagonists are almost uniformly women, would eventually get around to Seydoux, hot off her own H-wood cameo as a villain in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. If it weren’t apparent that Seydoux is the new Ledoyen, then witness a film that not only features both, but in which Seydoux at one point literally becomes Ledoyen.
Farewell, My Queen takes as its source Chantal Thomas’ 2002 “fictitious history” novel, which posits that Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) was, if not a full-on lesbian, then madly in love with the Duchess of Polignac (Ledoyen). The gay angle is largely kept at the homoerotic level, but the story is in effect a love triangle, with the third point being Seydoux’s Sidonie, the queen’s beloved reader who, we’re often reminded, can deny her majesty nothing. When paired together, Jacquot shoots his women in tight close-ups, stressing their lived-in relationships. Twice does one woman find herself staring lustily at another.
These moments are some of the very few in which we get an entry into the characters’ minds, Queen being consistently cold and detached. Technically, this is an exposé by way of revisionist history, hipping us to the secrets, albeit speculative, of the rich, famous and dead. But it also, pointedly, denies us full access. Marie is a supporting character in the film about her, whom we only see when Sidone sees her. For the costume drama buff, Queen will be vexingly light on drama, especially given the setting. It’s Revolution Eve, with the action concentrating on the growing chaos inside Versailles as it becomes evident that the queen will lose her head. Queen is simultaneously too arty to be conventional and too conventional to be arty, but the best parts are purely manic, trained on Seydoux as she barrels down crowded, candlelit hallways. Seydoux actually shows more range than she ever has. She even smiles, which should have wrought a Garbo-esque ad campaign.