de facto film reviews 3 stars

Jeanne du Barry, the new film from Maiwenn, who both directed and stars in the title role, is a bit of a stunner, just in terms of the visuals. It is not a perfect film, but it is enjoyable, and it remains consistent in being as much an examination of class and history as a character study. It is a biopic, but it does not suffer from bloat, nor does it commit the cinematic crimes of boring the audience or telling a nearly wholly fabricated story. The visuals are perhaps the centerpiece of this work. The word sumptuous comes to mind, and this is necessary to detail precisely the world in which these historic figures lived.

Courtesy Why Not Productions

The best aspect of the film, however, is the work of Johnny Depp, in the role of Louis XV of France. This is no Jack Sparrow redux, or “yes, that box could be used, for storing cocaine, if that is such a thing one might want to do” that he has unfortunately become best know for of late. It is a performance that is his most natural since Donnie Brasco and among the finest things he has done, complete with a convincing French accent. Did I mention this film is in French? Regardless, his work is a marvel of voice, and movement, of eyes and subtle expressions.

The same cannot be said for Maiwenn, who is nowhere near bad in the title role but is pales in comparison to the awe-inspiring work Depp displays. She does much better work as director and writer, crafting a script that honors history and direction which moves things along swiftly, professionally and with a sense of place that keeps a viewer from tuning out. The narration neatly fills the ellipses, offering context and information in a way that allows a viewer to understand. In this way, while it does some “telling” it largely avoids becoming “telling, not showing” because the viewer gets just enough tell to be able to know what is being shown.

Courtesy Why Not Productions

The best thing in terms of plot, was the way in which this device helped set up the conflict Jean had with the royal family, namely the daughters of Louis, and, eventually, certain other members of the court, including Marie Antoinette. The court did not trust her or like her, because her background as a courtesan and commoner filled them with disdain. In this, the script does a good job showing how horrendous the French aristocracy was, and you may find yourself hoping that one or two Louis’s daughters and their entourage eventually met Madame Guillotine. Yet, to the mind of this reviewer, we also do not get enough reason why they hated her. We understand what is happening without knowing as many particulars as we would like. In this sense, reading a book will be more enlightening on the Du Barry/Court split.

Was it simply that she did not follow protocols and was forward, open, intelligent, female, common, married and beautiful? A threat to their rather incestuous circle of sycophants, who they feared was in the way of their access to their precious monarch? Was there some Catholic bias here, a certain near medieval piety that remained? These are questions that the film does not properly address. The daughters are played as extremely one note villains, as are her husband and most members of the court. The story is about Jean, Louis, De Borde-the king’s valet-as well as Louis’s heir, and, just a bit, about Jean’s “servant, not slave” Zamor. This is one other aspect the film seems to begin to explore and then drops. It is one of the few times the film’s brevity works against it, as another fifteen minutes, taking us through the final years of Jean’s life and showing-rather than telling-what happened to her during those last days.

Courtesy Why Not Productions

For this reason, Jeanne du Barry is sometimes a frustrating film that will not fail to satisfy on many levels, and which is wonderful to see. The costumes, makeup and sets all feel authentic, vibrant and the music is never intrusive. The photography avoids being a distraction, as does the editing, with only one moment, a race up a set of steps, seeming more like something from a melodramatic Mira Nair film, than this, which has echoes of the great Sofia Coppola. I can heartily recommend this for Depp lovers, for history freaks and for anyone looking to watch a movie about overcoming societal norms.

Jeanne du Barry is now playing in theaters nationwide.