L'auteur de la semaine: Benoit Jacquot | Bleader

L'auteur de la semaine: Benoit Jacquot

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Lea Seydoux (left) stars in Farewell, My Queen.
  • Lea Seydoux (left) stars in Farewell, My Queen.
So far, 2012 has been a great year to see French movies in Chicago. The European Union Film Festival had local premieres from major directors Claire Denis (To the Devil), Bruno Dumont (Hors Satan), and André Téchiné (Unforgivable, which screens again next month at the Music Box), and Facets just presented a couple of masterworks by Mia Hansen-Løve (Goodbye First Love) and Philippe Garrel (A Burning Hot Summer). No less valuable have been the runs of Declaration of War, Polisse (which returns this week for a short run at Facets), and Bertrand Bonello’s House of Pleasures, three flawed but inarguably original films that offered plenty to chew on.

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.

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