As one Internet sage put it, "Nice job, Frenchies!" But allow us a certain expansion: Director Benoit Jacquot ("Sade," "A Single Girl," "The School of Flesh") has always been obsessed -- as he has readily admitted -- with the plight of women, especially those who are both beautiful and powerless. Whether that is even possible, his romantic thriller/art film "Farewell, My Queen," set on the eve of the French Revolution, portrays the doomed Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) not through the eyes of the despised queen herself but via her worshipful reader, Sidonie (Léa Seydoux).
Set on four feverish days -- July 14 (the original Bastille Day) through to July 17, 1789 -- "Farewell" relentlessly shadows Sidonie, remaining on her heels, or on her shoulder, as the political confusion, petty attachments and disintegrating formalities of court life play out. Since Sidonie is required, implicitly, to be in every scene, the viewer inevitably receives fractured information and a fragmented story, but this just contributes to the sense of chaos at Versailles (where the film was shot).
Technically, "Farewell My Queen" is reminiscent of Jacquot's "Single Girl," which concerned a contemporary woman played by Virginie Ledoyen, who in "Farewell My Queen" portrays Marie's royal pet and semi-Sapphic obsession, the Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac. Jacquot, making overheated use of Chantal Thomas' 2003 novel, nonetheless maintains a distance between the audience and those who surround the soon-to-be-guillotined Marie (who lost her head in 1793). We know what will happen, of course, but Jacquot still manages to create tension, as well as a semi-soap opera, among the let-them-cake-eaters of post-Enlightenment France.
PLOT The crisis of Marie Antoinette, as seen through the eyes of her worshipful handmaiden. RATING R (nudity and language)
CAST Diane Kruger, Léa Seydoux, Virginie Ledoyen
PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas, Malverne Cinema 4
BOTTOM LINE Engrossing and thoroughly cinematic. (In French, German, Italian and English with English subtitles)