A Little Chaos (U.K., 2014) directed by Alan Rickman, 116 minutes, Scotiabank, 9a
Up early Sunday morning to see the last film on our list!
Kate Winslet plays Madame Sabine de Barra, described as a "revolutionary gardener" who created a rock garden at the Palace of Versailles in the mid 17th c. for Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King. Commissioned to do the work by the king’s chief architect André Le Notre, Winslet never disappoints as the strong-willed Sabine de Barra; however, the film does. Immensely.
The focus of the film is off ... why should we care about the creation of the King's rock garden (she said, echoing the laments of millions of angry peasants approximately one hundred years later during the French Revolution). It's not important how the garden was achieved but what de Barra had to face as woman to achieve this position of prestige and honour. Very little is made of her unusual role as a female landscape designer. Instead, Rickman as the co-writer and director (and starring as the Sun King himself), focuses too much on palace intrigues and infidelities.
How did she achieve this role? What were the impediments? Was it a family enterprise that she inherited? Doesn't it merit investigation besides a raised eyebrow from two badly costumed (and wigged) bit players who scorn her?
The architect Le Notre (played rather woodenly by he Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts) immediately clashes with de Barra; she values "a little chaos" in her design; he worships symmetry. However, they proceed with the project. Of course, they succeed and there is very little drama to deflect from their succeeding.
Rickman plays the Sun King in full on Snape-like disdain and pageantry. He is becoming "a type", a very unappealing one. Where is that emotional, intense actor we saw, what seems like a hundred years ago, in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)? Of course, this is a very different role but if he could express a bit more than bored disdain in his film roles ... that would help the film tremendously.
Le Notre's wife (Helen McCrory), suspecting her husband of infidelity, tries to sabotage the project; the king loses a Spanish born noble wife he barely seems to care for; de Barra has a vivid flashback about the death of her husband and child which she blames on herself - but even that is strangely passionless. There is little to pull you forward in the narrative.
I love Winslet, she can do no wrong for me. But the whole feel of the production felt second rate - the costumes, the sets, the wigs, the jewelry, and ... the dialogue. It's difficult to write dialogue that is neither too stilted (apropos of the mid 17th c.) or too anachronistic (hello Stanley Tucci as the King's gay brother, the Duke Phillipe).
Last film of the festival for us ... it was a good year! So many good films and now the films for grownups season begins in September in anticipation of the Oscar noms. Bring it on!