The film that opened at Cannes this year was so scandalized that few expected it to be a success. Writer-director-star Maïwenn wowed for the first time by casting Johnny Depp as Louis XV, which would be his first role since his extremely acrimonious divorce from Amber Heard – She famously accused him of domestic violence. Then, shortly before the festival began, Maïwenn admitted that she had spit in the face of a journalist. Since then, he has filed a lawsuit against her for assault. Many people have asked: What the hell is Cannes doing?
Against the odds, Jeanne du Barry turned out to be a delicate and elaborately choreographed historical drama with many satirical details. It has much in common with Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon than it But the pirate of the Caribbean, with Depp giving one of his more restrained and effective performances as a king falling in love with a prostitute. His Louis is a taciturn, melancholy but commanding character with a dark side.
Jeanne du Barry (played by Maïwenn) is a young woman from a very humble background, partly by chance and partly through her own business, who eventually arrived at the Palace of Versailles. She’s mistreated by many of the men she meets, but has enough intelligence and a sense of humour to rise above them all. The script, co-written by Maïwenn, exposes the absurdity and chauvinism of court life. After the king appreciates her, Jeanne is forced to undergo a humiliating gynecological examination before the doctor declares her “worthy of the royal bed”.
As a director, Maiwenn pays close attention to costume design and production. There is no anachronism to be found in Sofia Coppola’s films. Marie Antoinette (2006), also screened at Cannes, but with the same obsessive interests in the way the characters dress and especially the hairstyles. The film also makes creative use of the locations in Versailles, from the hall of mirrors to the many cavernous reception rooms, where revealingly dressed aristocrats performed their bizarre rituals. Depp’s Louis XV was first seen from afar, marching in a blue frock coat towards the assembled dignitaries. This is a very hierarchical world in which every look, gesture and word has hidden meaning. Everyone is conspiring against everyone else. It is considered bad form to express emotions.
In later stages, the plot falters a bit. Although the French Revolution is only a few years away and many of the main characters presented here will be sent to the guillotine, life at the courthouse is peaceful. There’s always been a struggle for power and influence – and that’s all. The only real dramatic tension comes as Jeanne waits to see if young and cool-minded Marie Antoinette refuses to talk to her and thereby proves that she’s not a pervert. Are not.
Jeanne is a character who surrenders to emotional outbursts. Everyone else is bound by convention or self-interest to reveal their true feelings. As a love story, so the film is somewhat warm. The king and the maid had deep feelings for each other but did not show much affection. The greater richness here lies in the film’s proper humor and often monstrous characters.
What Jeanne du Barry will do as Depp’s faltering reputation remains to be seen, but he delivered a solid enough performance. This time, at least, those who spread the disaster in Cannes were wrong.
Directed by: Maïwenn. Actors: Maïwenn, Johnny Depp, Melvil Poupaud, Pierre Richard. 116 minutes.
‘Jeanne du Barry’ awaits UK release