An Intimate History of the French Revolution
Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette in the Hall of Mirrors
A Blast from the Past with Lessons for Today
Farewell My Queen, a wonderful new French Film, provides us a unique view of the great 18th century revolution in France. Based on a novel by Chantal Thomas, and directed by Benoît Jacquot– whose oeuvre includes “A Single Girl,” and “Deep in the Woods” – this compelling film reconstructs history in living color. And like all outstanding European period films he uses the grand artifacts of their history as props. The costumes, wigs, jewelry, furniture, fine horses, and the decision to use candle light in many of the scenes, and the eloquently spoken French – with English subtitles – all serve to invest this movie with a feeling of authenticity and transport us back in time.
The choice of Versailles Palace as the setting for the story to unfold was the first of many brilliant artistic decisions made by the producers of this movie. For there is no better visual symbol of why the Revolution happened. From themoment I walked through the big golden gates and entered the cobblestone courtyard at Versailles Palace on my first visit to Paris, I could almost hear the voices of the enraged mob that stormed this monument to vulgar opulence in August 1789, dragging King Louis the XVI and his Queen Marie Antoinette from their plush quarters and later beheading them in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
As I roamed through the many rooms of Versailles, each seemingly more fabulous than the next, with endless decorations of gold leaf and tons exotic marbles, I reflected on the starved and ragged masses of Frenchmen locked in a Darwinian struggle for bread. Strolling down the magnificent Hall Of Mirrors, it became abundantly clear that the Aristocrats of the Ancient Regime of France, with their arrogance of power and avaricious profligate ways, got just what they deserved when the revolutionary masses rose up and cut off their heads in the guillotine!
The Great Hall of Mirrors
This is how royalty lived while the masses starved
The French Revolution was one of three great bourgeois revolutions of the 18th century – along with the American and the Haitian Revolutions – that rejected the doctrine of The Divine Right Of Kings to rule and declared the fraternity and equality of man to be the natural order of things. And the new order was born in blood just like humanity. There are many ways of telling history; the work of professional historians sets the standards and constructs the master narrative, but great novelists, dramatists and film makers can bring this narrative to life so that we can relieve it.
What sets this story apart from all others that I have seen about the French Revolution is the way the tale is told through the eyes of those who served the royals and aristocrats. The coachmen, cooks, maids, seamstresses, grooms, and foreign mercenary soldiers like the King’s personal Swiss Guards; which he employed because he was afraid to trust Frenchmen.
Most Dramatic were the numerous ladies-in-Waiting, who existed to serve the every whim of the Queen – like personal maids to the rich today – whose story is the central theme of this film. The actresses were marvelous. Their portrayal of the intense lesbian lust between the beautiful Queen and her married female lover Madam Gabrielle de Polniac, and her young voluptuous reader who would like to be the object of the Queen’s romantic interests– played by Diane Kruger, Lea Seydoux and Virginie Ledoyen – provide some highly erotic moments that no porn movie can match.
The Queen and her Lover
The screen sizzled with girl on girl passions
We observe the progress and the fall of the monarchy through the whisperings of the army of palace servants, as they grow increasingly surly and disrespectful of their former masters. And we can experience the growing sense of terror and panic as the aristocrats read the handwriting on the wall and look for the quickest way out of France. As I watched them dressed up as servants, scurrying around to see what valuables they could smuggle past the encroaching mob, I thought of an observation of that great authority on revolutions, CLR James: “The only time the rich can be trusted is when they running for their lives.”
Then I thought of Mitt Romney and the American Plutocrats, who are as given to arrogance, avarice and debauchery as the decadent French aristocrats. And suddenly I heard Bob Marley’s voice singing: “We gonna run them crazy bald heads outta town!”
One of Mitt’s Buddy’s Mansions
This is where Mitt held a recent fundraiser with fellow plutoctats
The City Mitt Left Behind
How the other America lives
Playthell George Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 19, 2012