The French touch

In Adelaide recently to introduce his latest film Farewell, My Queen to local audiences as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, veteran director Benoit Jacquot sat down with The Adelaide Review to discuss his fantastic new film.

Farewell, My Queen is a visually stunning period drama about the early of days of the French Revolution through the eyes of Marie Antoinette’s reader, Sidonie (Lea Seydoux). The antidote to Sofia Coppola’s post punk glamour fest Marie Antoinette, Farewell, My Queen has more in common with The Last King of Scotland than Coppola’s OTT epic. Like The King of Scotland, it features a fictional account of a relationship between a powerful figure and a confidante before their rule is about to end. 

Jacquot, who often directs beautiful and talented European actresses just as they are about to break into the global market (Isabelle Huppert in The Wings of the Dove, Virginie Ledoyen in A Single Girl and Judith Godrèche in The Disenchanted), directs a trio of talented and stunning European actresses in Farewell: Diane Kruger as Marie Antoinette, Virginie Ledoyen, once again working with Jacquot to play Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac, and Lea Seydoux (best known to Australian audiences for her small roles in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris) as the reader, Sidonie. It is Seydoux who shines and will benefit from Jacquot’s Midas touch to become a future star.

Originally Jacquot wanted to make the film when he first read the 2001 book of the same name by Chantal Thomas. Initially he but thought it would be too expensive to make but he received a phone call to helm the project many years later from producer Kristina Larson and the rest, as they say, is history.

“It’s quite common when I read books that I can imagine films that I could make,” Jacquot explained. “For this one, straight away I knew I would like to make a film. Before I thought about the book, whether it was good or not, there was a feeling that I wanted to make a film out of this story.

“The movie is very close to what I thought it would be after I read the book. It is very similar in many ways.”

The director of A Single Girl, Right Now and Sade made some deviations from the novel including the present tense setting, lowering the age of Sidonie and focusing on the supposed lesbian/close relationship between Marie Antoinette and Gabrielle de Polignac. Jacquot said Thomas supported these changes.

“She was very happy a film was being made, especially one that was very close to the story but she was also happy that the film was taking another direction at some point and making its own choices about the story but keeping close to what she had written.”

With Farewell, My Queen, Jacquot wanted to make a film that wasn’t about the life of Marie Antoinette instead it focused on her role in that important time in history.

“She went from being a princess to a queen of tragedy and that was really what was of interest for the film because no one could see it coming. But that’s what she turned into from the eyes of everyone. So, she’s becoming schizophrenic in a way by actually realising she is a princess that is turning into a queen of tragedy. She’s divided between these two feelings or these two ways of being. During these four specific days this quite violent transformation is made.

“What was of interest was to see this transformation interpreted through the eyes of the young girl (the reader, Sidonie) and she’s actually witnessing this very violent transformation. So this transformation, and what happens between the two, really relates to the more general environment and situation where everyone is starting to panic within or outside of the castle of Versailles. It’s in this very dramatic setting that the actual film takes place.”

With half of his filmography period dramas, Jacquot said that he prefers to make films set in the past as he can comment on today by looking back.

“What is really interesting is to bring a real story back to life in the present while you know how it will end. The point of view of the film is more interesting because the actual story of how the queen’s life will end is actually known but you bring back the story with a contemporary view.”

Up next for Jacquot are two films including Diary of a Chambermaid, which is set to star Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception).

“It’s not a secret at all,” he says of Diary of a Chambermaid. “There are two films planned, the one you mentioned with Marion Cotillard (Diary of a Chambermaid) and another one.”

* This interview was conducted via a translator.

Alliance Francaise French Film Festival
Continues until Sunday April 7
Palace Nova Eastend
Farewell, My Queen screens on Friday, March 29 and Saturday, April 6

Other French Film Festival highlights

Children of Paradise: This is the Australian premiere of the restored version of the 1945 classic considered the greatest French film of all time from director Marcel Carne. Screening: Sunday, April 7

Sister: Farewell, My Queen’s Lea Seydoux stars in Ursula Meier’s drama about two siblings searching for a place in the world. It won the Silver Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival. Screenings: Thursday, March 28, Sunday, March 31, Tuesday, April 2 and Wednesday, April 3

The Invisibles: Documentary about ‘the invisibles’, homosexual men and women born between 1919 and 1939. Screening: Tuesday, April 2





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