Film | France | Nathaniel Rogers

Movies: Happy Bastille Day! Eat Cake, Watch Movies.

Hollywood Queens: Norma Shearer and Kiki Dunst as Marie Antoinette



Happy Bastille Day! If you didn't watch the Tour de France this morning (if only movie-watching gave you glutes like that!) may I suggest another more cinematic way to celebrate our friends the French today? The French were instrumental in the birth of cinema so it's mandatory to pay homage once in awhile.

Lovesongs-boysIf you're staying in looking for movie options, Netflix has a wide range of Gallic movies available on Instant Watch including a number of gay interest features.

You can't go wrong with: Francois Ozon's POTICHE a very funny 70s kitsch-fest with Catherine Deneuve; last year's acclaimed transgendered drama Tomboy; Andre Techine's THE WITNESSES about the early days of the AIDS crisis; Jaques Demy's musical THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT with Deneuve, Francoise Dorleac (Deneuve's late sister) and the one and only Gene Kelly who is currently getting the Centennial treatment here in NYC; the original LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (which begat the stage musical which begat The Birdcage which begat many farcical 'gays pretending to be straight' scenes in lesser movies); or Christophe Honore's polysexual musical LOVE SONGS (pictured) with a super hot cast including the dishevelled ubiquitous Louis Garrell, always welcome sex kitten Ludivine Sagnier and infinitely crush-worthy Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet; and that's just a handful of movie-watching options.

But above all else if you're a Francophile, run out to see Benoît Jacquot's FAREWELL MY QUEEN, a starry sapphic  retelling of the Marie Antoinette story which has just opened in select cities.  


Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (2006) was really into the pastries but this queen is hungrier for a certain Duchess. MORE AFTER THE JUMP

Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) plays the troubled big-spending queen, Léa Seydoux (Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol), the film's actual lead, is her bosomy devoted servant Madame Laborde, and Virginia Ledoyen (8 Women) is the Queen's Object of Affection, the Duchess de Polignac. The French people were so unhappy with this rumored affair that the ostensibly powerless Duchess was fairly high on the list of the 286 heads demanded for the guillotine! Jacquot clues you in early that he means to tell the famous story differently. For one, it's told "backstage" through the stressful lives of the servants. Consider it the French Revolution: Downton Abbey Edition... without Maggie Smith or the jokes.


It begins on July 14th, 1789 on the fatefully violent day that will become "Bastille Day" though the Royal Court and their massive entourage of servants won't understand what's happening until the news trickles over to them in the country. This Revoluton will not be televised; Jacquot wisely never jumps over to Paris for history lessons but keeps the focus tight on Lamborde's journey as she's drawn closer and closer into the Duchess & Queen's tragic orbit. The movie is immediately unglamourous and alarmingly modern (without the gorgeously stylized anachronisms of Coppola's version). In the very first moments Laborde wakes with an itchy arm from mosquito bites, is taunted by a fellow servant with a dead rat, and scolded by her superior for arriving to see the Queen with a dirty dress. In brief, this is not your typically fussy costume drama. The 100 minute running time, the shortest of any Marie Antoinette feature that I've personally seen, is another example of the film's bracing immediacy. 

Farewell my Queen takes place over a few short days and each morning Lamborde is awakened more violently as the threats from Paris escalate. Late in the film, after an innocuous fade to black she jolts suddenly awake gasping and grasping her neck as if she's just lost her own head to the blade. She has possibly lost her head, albeit not literally. And she may have also lost her heart, too. It's a credit to Seydoux that she manages to keep you guessing and interested in what the mysteriously solitary Lamborde is feeling even though her character is a self described "no one". Is her devotion to the Queen your garden variety Stockholm Syndrome or is there something deeper at work? The psychologically knotty climax is both unthinkably heartless and suffused with an elegant gallows romanticism as the three central women become inextricably fused together even as they're scattering away from their home.


There are numerous reasons why the Marie Antoinette story has fascinated artists and storytellers for centuries now. From the Court's commitment to theatrical flamboyance with a blind eye to the consequent suffering of the masses (modern pop culture echos were seen as recently as The Hunger Games this spring), to the complexity of the Queen's lonely gilded cage tragedy played against the backdrop of epic messy violent history. One could argue that the now mythic story is super relevant all over again in this era of rampant socioeconomic injustice and the angry gap between the 1 and 99%. 


Lesmiz-anneP.S. if you have no time for the movies this weekend, do something to celebrate the French. The least you could do is watch the haunting Les Miserables trailer again! Anne Hathaway's choked up musicality is thrilling and a reminder that theatrically galvanizing French suffering didn't end with Marie Antoinette's head in a basket. If Hathaway is crying this hard in early 2013 it'll be from Oscar night joy.

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jul 14, 2012 6:40:32 PM


    The best last line in the history of the cinema!

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jul 14, 2012 6:42:08 PM

  3. Thank you for the happy Bastille Day :)
    Though officially we celebrate the 14th of July 1790, 'Fête de la fédération' and not the taken of the Bastille's 1789.

    Posted by: oakpope | Jul 14, 2012 6:50:00 PM

  4. Please do not repeat that tripe about how the french court ignored the plight of the masses. Most of the stories that we learn about were untrue and were made up during after their execution in order to justify their deaths.

    And although it's quite true that most of the "premier etate" didn't much care (and the second estate, that of the clergy, most certainly didn't), Louis XVI himself cared very deeply, as he considered himself the father of all the french.

    When people were starving, her personally bought many tons of wheat to feed people. He attempted an austerity budget and cut expenses at Versailles numerous times, which only made him unpopular with the aristocrats. He liberalized the press, which in turn used the liberty to attack him further. He refused to allow his guards to kill any rioters, even when their own lives were at risk (to which Napolean grumpled that a few shots would have gotten rid of the agitators).

    In fact, Louis actually convened the Estates General for the first time in decades in order to raise taxes with the consent of the governed, even though as an absolute monarach, he could have done so with out anyone approval.

    Indeed, the first french revolution was the one where he agreed to a constitutional monarchy, and be bound by certain limits as to what he could do.

    What it enough? No. Did he make mistakes? Sure. But to portray him and Marie Antoinette as heartless rulers completely out of touch and concerned only with their own frivolities is just not part of the historical record.

    Posted by: Randy | Jul 14, 2012 8:09:03 PM

  5. I think his main crime was to be an indecisive king following two ruthless absolute monarchs.

    Posted by: oakpope | Jul 14, 2012 8:37:20 PM

  6. Yes, he was very indicisive, and that's not a good thing when everyone expects you to know how to rule.

    Futhermore, Marie Antoinette was never educated properly and thrown into an impossible situation. The French-Austrian marriage was just not going to work, no matter what they did.

    Incidently, both king and queen gave enormous sums to charity and often did so anonymously.

    Again, not defending their mistakes, but they were not the monsters that we've been led to believe.

    Posted by: Randy | Jul 14, 2012 9:19:35 PM

  7. The best French film I,ve ever seen is "Wild Reeds" by André Téchiné. See it folks, it's beautiful.

    Posted by: Derek Pearce | Jul 14, 2012 10:04:22 PM

  8. The best French film I,ve ever seen is "Wild Reeds" by André Téchiné. See it folks, it's beautiful.

    Posted by: Derek Pearce | Jul 14, 2012 10:04:34 PM

  9. My friend Stacy called the new Marie Antoinette a "2 hour shoe commercial," and, frankly, she's right. What a bore! At least I got it from the library and didn't have to pay for it!

    Posted by: Pierce_mn | Jul 14, 2012 10:06:47 PM

  10. RANDY - thanks for all your information (but please straighten out your English in the first post! too many mistakes).

    Anyone who loves America and knows something about it's founding has to honor the French without whom we could not have won the Revolutionary War.

    Yes, vive la France.

    And where is our own "Frenchman", OS2GUY?

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jul 14, 2012 11:34:05 PM

  11. Sorry -- thinking in french and english can screw up my typing skills.

    Anyway, Marie Antoinette had great style and class -- enough reason for any gay man to worship her!

    And one more little known fact: Her hair dresser "kept house" with another man and was her most devoted servant, staying with her until the very end, at great personal risk to himself. He knew how important it was to have her hair dressed at all times!

    Posted by: Randy | Jul 15, 2012 12:46:31 AM

  12. My friends who have traveled to Europe have told me that the French people are the least friendly and rudest in all of Europe. Do any of you have similar experiences?

    Posted by: andrew | Jul 15, 2012 3:01:07 AM

  13. shut up Andrew ! try to travel and see another country than yours ! and thanks Andy for the happy bastille day ! vive la France !

    Posted by: willyag | Jul 15, 2012 3:05:26 AM

  14. This is the fabulous disco fireworks on the eiffel tower last night, with a giant disco ball ...

    Posted by: willyag | Jul 15, 2012 3:06:44 AM

  15. @UFFDA: the French king aided the American revolutionaries because he wanted to weaken his enemy, Britain, not because he favored democracy and freedom. His own unjust society collapsed in a Reign of Terror a short time later. We would have gained ou independence without French aid, but it would have taken a little linger.

    Posted by: andrew | Jul 15, 2012 3:40:21 AM

  16. @Willyag: I was asking a reasonable question. Thats what we do in America. Your "Shut up Andrew" comment may be the answer about French rudeness.

    Posted by: andrew | Jul 15, 2012 3:43:32 AM

  17. @Andrew: I do not think that it is a reasonable question to ask for a blanket statement on a whole nation based on a few travelers' personal accounts.

    I must confess I never got why Marie Antoinette's story is supposed to be so fascinating, so I do not care much for movies on it. But I wholeheartedly second all the recommendations is this post. Excellent movies all!

    Oh! and Happy Bastille Day!

    Posted by: Nico | Jul 15, 2012 5:17:11 AM

  18. @Andrew : it's a little more complicated than that. Yes, to antagonized UK was great, but there was massive goodwill in France towards the American fight for independence. Would you have won without France ? No one can tell, but little is known that the major contribution from France was not La Fayette, of the De Grasse navy, but the money. France loan huge amount of money to the Americans so they could arm and dress themselves. The amount of money given is a major reason why France got bankrupt in 1780s. It's also not well known that when revolutionary France was attacked by all Europe Kingdoms, they ask the Americans for some money back from the loans, but the American government refused, because they said the money came from the King, and therefore USA was not obligated to reimburse the loans. The money was never given back. Not to great consequence for the French love of America, as is proven by the popular free contribution of French people to finance the Statue of Liberty, gift from the French people to the American one (even children was contributing with their meagre nickel equivalents). No hard feelings, you paid back in the end of WWI and WWII :)

    Posted by: oakpope | Jul 15, 2012 7:55:13 AM

  19. As for the rude commentary : French are 65 millions. Nobody can judge so many people by meeting some people, all the more in Paris when there is so many different cultures and habits and tourists, who are not always very polite themselves :)
    I don't think there is more rude people in Paris than in New York, or in London :)

    Posted by: oakpope | Jul 15, 2012 7:59:17 AM

  20. As for the rude commentary : French are 65 millions. Nobody can judge so many people by meeting some people, all the more in Paris when there is so many different cultures and habits and tourists, who are not always very polite themselves :)
    I don't think there is more rude people in Paris than in New York, or in London :)

    Posted by: oakpope | Jul 15, 2012 7:59:23 AM

  21. @Andrew, I've have great experiences in France, very friendly people and service and good looking guys, also friendly.

    Posted by: Matt26 | Jul 15, 2012 8:47:11 AM

  22. I know this shouldn't be posted here, but where is your story on the death of Celeste Holm? Kind of shocked and disappointed.

    Academy Award Winner Celeste Holm Dies At 95.

    Posted by: RobWest | Jul 15, 2012 11:55:51 AM

  23. Andrew: That is what countries do; they ultimately look out for their own interests. The United States does this on a daily basis yet I would be hard-pressed to find a citizen who is this critical of their own foreign policy in regards to military and monetary "aid".

    Posted by: Lance | Jul 15, 2012 12:53:27 PM

  24. Thank you Robwest for letting us know. I haven't seen any news on Ms Holmes passing. I know that she's been very very ill for a long time. God Bless her.

    Posted by: russ | Jul 15, 2012 3:21:04 PM

  25. @Matt26: Thanks for sharing your first hand account of your experiences in France.

    Posted by: andrew | Jul 15, 2012 6:37:49 PM

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