Dir/Wri: Maiwenn | Cast: Maiwenn, Johnny Depp, Melvil Poupaud, Pierre Richard, Pascal Gregory, Benjamin Lavernhe, Marianne Basler | France, Drama 117′
French actor and filmmaker Maiwenn clearly had Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Barry Lyndon in mind when she came up with idea of making a film about the six-year love affair between the widower King Louis XV (1710-74) and his mistress Jeanne du Barry, who would dance him to his grave. Seven years in the making, the film is based on a script by the director and her co-writers Teddy Lussi-Modeste and Nicolas Livecchi who create an overlong potboiler that aspires to be more momentous than it actually is, and with little dramatic heft to carry us through the narrative torpor.
In real life Jeanne Becu, Comtesse du Barry, was a cultured patron and aesthete who counted Voltaire amongst her coterie. But Maiwenn skips over historical fact imagining her heroine, who she also plays, as a woman who started life as an orphan and used her looks and low cunning to scamper up the social ladder to the Royal throne, entrancing the King who had only recently lost his Polish Queen Marie Leszczynska and his previous mistress Madame de Pompadour.
Elegantly shot in flickering candlelight by Laurent Dailland who also captures the magnificent landscapes surrounding Versailles, the film marks Maiwenn’s 35 mm debut and aims for the same delicate atmosphere as Barry Lyndon but achieves none of the depth or finesse of Kubrick’s epic, some set ideas seemingly copied directly from the original.
Slim of plot but busting with bodice-heaving interludes Jeanne du Barry is a raunchy romp that harks back to an era where it was unthinkable for a commoner to become chatelaine of the magnificent palace of Versailles where she would slip into the King’s bed, via a marriage with Melvil Poupaud’s Comte du Barry, and craftily negotiate malign influences in the corridors of power.
Sadly we see no real evidence of du Barry’s clever strategies, or her artistic prowess, Maiwenn instead playing her as a simpering coquettish ‘cat that got the cream’ in a series of face-offs with the King’s cartoonish offspring and his valet, a suave Benjamin Lavernhe.
Maiwenn makes for a rather salacious, hard-edged heroine, unpopular with her female counterparts but capable of turning on the charm with her male entourage. Depp is masterful in his limited screen appearance gracing the set with his usual charismatic allure but even he can’t save this CANNES FILM FESTIVAL turkey. MT
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2023