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'The Queen of Versailles' review: Astounding documentary

David and Jackie Siegel, subjects of the documentary

David and Jackie Siegel, subjects of the documentary “The Queen of Versailles.” Credit: AP

Editor's note: Bravo aired the 2012 Sundance Film Festival hit "The Queen of Versailles" on April 29, after acquiring the TV rights earlier this year. Here's our review, originally published when the documentary hit Long Island theaters in August 2012.

Lauren Greenfield's astounding documentary "The Queen of Versailles" ought to be required viewing for anyone who blames the rich for yanking the rug out from under America's economy. The story of a high-flying billionaire brought low -- well, lower -- by the financial crisis, it's a delicious tale of poetic justice in which palaces crumble and the maws of gluttony run dry. By extension, however, it's a tale about all of us.

You may not initially see yourself in David and Jackie Siegel, the Orlando-based founder of the time-share company Westgate Resorts and his busty, younger wife. They're building America's biggest house, a 90,000-square-foot pile inspired by Marie Antoinette's chateau (symbolism, anyone?) and tricked out with 17 bathrooms, 10 kitchens, a health spa and a deck overlooking the nightly fireworks at nearby Disney World. It's easier to relate when the bubble bursts, forcing the Siegels (plus their seven children and one niece) to pinch dollars, if not pennies. Westgate, a microcosm of easy-money loans gone bad, lays off 7,000 employees; Versailles goes on the market; and the Siegels reduce their house-staff to 4, from 19. Things are so bad that the family starts flying commercial.

It's rare to see such a fall from grace on film, and Greenfield extracts some amazingly candid admissions from her subjects (David may be regretting them; he recently sued her for defamation). But to cackle at the humbled Siegels -- Jackie is reduced to shopping at Wal-Mart -- is to miss the point. "The Queen of Versailles" holds a mirror to all of America's comfortable classes, asking what extravagances we now consider luxuries and where we set our own bar of excess. "No one is without guilt," David says, and although it's galling to hear it from him, he's right.

PLOT The true story of a highflying billionaire brought down to Earth by the 2008 financial crisis RATING PG (mild language)


PLAYING AT Sag Harbor Cinema

BOTTOM LINE Sympathy for the rich? You might be surprised by this astounding film, which says more about American consumerism and its discontents than any in recent memory.

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