Wednesday, May 17, 2023

New Film about Madame du Barry

I will review it at some point. Maïwenn does not resemble Madame du Barry at all; Jeanne was a blonde with a porcelain doll delicacy. From what I have seen, I am glad that the Dauphin, the future Louis XVI appears to have an important role; it shows the prince hunting with his grandfather and La Barry, as was the case. Louis actually had a good relationship with La Barry, who was against the Austrian alliance since it had been the work of her predecessor, La Pompadour. It also depicts how many of the simple styles that Marie-Antoinette later imitated were introduced by La Barry. The beginning of Marie-Antoinette's tragedy, and La Barry's, is rooted in the time portrayed by the film, since the young princess was tainted in the public eye by the sordid lifestyles of the mistress and the old king. And people forget that La Barry died on the guillotine just like Marie-Antoinette. According to The Telegraph:

The story begins not with Louis but Jeanne herself, who as a youngster is sent off to a nunnery for being too darn sexy for her servant job – then is later thrown out for being too darn sexy even for the nunnery. A Parisian brothel proves more her speed, and after gaining a reputation as a skilled and highly cultured lover, she comes to the attention of the Comte du Barry (Melvil Poupaud) – who along with the Duc du Richelieu (Pierre Richard) contrives to bring her to Versailles, in the hope that the king will spot her and take her as a mistress.

The plan works, and after a gynaecological exam that’s played for laughs – actually one of the better scenes – Louis and Jeanne become a serious item, much to the chagrin of the king’s slightly ludicrous ugly-sister trio of daughters and the court at large. Essentially, every second scene involves Jeanne billowing into a large room as expensively costumed extras gasp and swoon over some outrageous flaunting of etiquette (maybe she’s wearing men’s clothes, maybe she’s accompanied by a black page boy the king buys her as a present).

Eventually tragedy strikes when Louis contracts smallpox, allowing Depp a number of increasingly tedious scenes in which he lies in bed croaking with his face covered in Rice Krispies. And when things get especially dire, out come the Coco Pops.

It’s mostly handsomely shot, with painterly vistas of the French countryside and lots of dazzling Versailles interiors. But the central relationship never convinces – it all just feels like a performance, put on for the benefit of the courtiers and by extension, us. Depp is hardly the first Hollywood outcast to find work in Europe, but it would be a stretch to say this feels like the first spark of a glorious comeback. (Read more.)


From Screendaily

 A relatively classy venture about class, Jeanne Du Barry looks at a real-life instance of social climbing with playful exuberance and a serious subtext. The title character — played by director and co-screenwriter Maiwenn — did a lot of what simply isn’t done, and her bold gambles paid off. Calling upon American Johnny Depp to play King Louis XV could be viewed as stunt casting but one soon forgets he’s an unusual choice because, if there is not exactly chemistry between the leads, there is something pleasingly watchable. This is not great or memorable filmmaking but the power of the story and some of the performances make up for that. Opening Cannes Out of Competition, the film hits French theaters immediately.

The illegitimate daughter of a monk and a cook, Jeanne learned good manners and received a good education, thanks to help from key aristocrats for whom her single mother worked. Her book-learning — we’re shown that she loved to read and was so adept at spelling and grammar that she could tutor well-born youths — co-existed with an early understanding of hypocrisy and keeping up appearances.

Mother and daughter leave the countryside for Paris, “the capital of all hope and desire”. Jeanne, who had spent time sheltered in convents where the nuns objected to books, learns the ways of libertinage and builds a reputation as a skilled courtesan. It’s clear that Jeanne will perform any sex act and submit to same, but there is nothing crass or prurient about the way this is conveyed on screen. 

When she meets the smooth-talking Count du Barry (Melvil Poupaud, entertainingly louche) they strike a bargain. She’ll use her charms to work her way up the ladder of increasingly wealthy lovers, helping to support his household. Du Barry’s friend the Duke de Richelieu (Pierre Richard — the supple physical comic from The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe — in a wonderful turn) is determined for Jeanne to meet the King.  

She does. It’s transgressive lust at first sight. Jeanne is told: “Whatever you do, don’t look the King in the eyes.” Jeanne, of course, takes that as a challenge to make sure female gaze and male gaze meld — and flabbergasted and disapproving witnesses of the court be damned. This is the story of two people who get to be together but are sneered at the entire time, because the time is the late 1700s and the setting is Versailles.

Most men — and women — consider Jeanne to be an ignorant whore. She may be a harlot, but she’s not ignorant. Between being a servant and a harlot, she finds the perks better in the field of harlotry.  Of course, there’s the comical indignity of the exam by the royal physician leading to his pronouncement: “I declare her worthy of the royal bed.”  And that is where she and Louis truly connect. The King makes it clear that the uncommon commoner will live at Versailles. The court — starting with his four snobbish daughters — can’t abide the arrangement.  

Although she has no children of her own, Jeanne is very attached to Du Barry’s son Adolphe and also to the King’s son Louis (who will later marry Marie Antoinette and find that the People have some objections to their heads remaining attached to their necks). Jeanne is devoted to the bright and adorable Black boy, Zamor, her page who pops out of a giant gift box from the King. Generous and down-to-earth, Jeanne is authentic in a world of artifice.  What Jeanne and the King share is healthy sexual appetites and unapologetic pleasure in each other’s company.  They have the happy smirks of people who are getting away with something — and given how regimented the monarch’s life is, they are.

When Marie Antoinette (Pauline Pollmann) is imported from Austria to strengthen political ties, it is beyond-crucial that she speak to Jeanne, who is not permitted to break the ice. Just a few words will suffice to lift disgrace and make the King’s whore acceptable. Will Marie Antoinette withhold those precious syllables forever or give in? 

While Depp is consistently compelling and Maiwenn acquits herself reasonably well, Benjamin Lavernhe is worth the price of admission as the King’s valet, La Borde. Lending gesture-perfect gravity under all circumstances, he’s a keeper of the flame of protocol whose own inner light is admirably subtle as he guides Jeanne through what amounts to a crash course in, well, almost everything.  One simply doesn’t show feelings at court. Jeanne has too much exuberance to put a lid on hers for long. And she thinks the prancing habit of backing out of the King’s presence is hilarious. (Read more.)


Frock Flicks analyzes the costumes, HERE.


More HERE. And HERE.


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