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This week, the Landmark Century is running Farewell, My Queen, the latest from director Benoît Jacquot. While the print ads make it look like a middlebrow costume drama, it’s as much a piece of auteur cinema as any of the eight titles listed above. Jacquot, who’s been making movies for about as long as Téchiné, has developed a personal body of work that’s well worth delving into.
Uniting the director’s stylistically varied films—which include character portraits (The Disenchanted, A Single Girl) and sexual psychodramas (Seventh Heaven, The School of Flesh) in addition to period pieces—is a consistent fascination with psychology. (Not coincidentally, his first directorial effort was a TV documentary about Jacques Lacan.) Jacquot likes to observe his characters at moments of self-discovery: crucial scenes in his films tend to take place in close quarters, so as to amplify the drama going on within his subjects. This orientation makes for a pretty eccentric historical film, since that genre is more often associated with sweeping gestures than with psychoanalytic precision.
But it also can make for a fascinating tension when Jacquot is depicting an era that predates psychoanalysis. Farewell, My Queen isn’t an anachronism fest, like Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, but something subtler. It often feels like the report of a contemporary author sent back to observe Versailles in the days before the French Revolution. No one in Jacquot’s cast tries to camp it up: they do their best to imagine an archaic way of life, and Jacquot sniffs around their recreation as though it were the real thing. I’m not sure what it all adds up to (I get the sense Jacquot would have delivered a similar film had he depicted young women living anywhere prior to 1900), but the details are compelling regardless.