French lessons
'Little White Lies' and 'Farewell, My Queen' offer Gallic charms

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‘Farewell, My Queen’

Before she lost her head for her country, Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) lost her head for Sidonie (Lea Seydoux), a lady-in-waiting who became the queen’s favorite reader in “Farewell, My Queen.” Spanning the first few tumultuous days of the French Revolution in July 1789 , the film opens with a shot illustrating the vast differences between the worlds outside of and within the walls of Versailles. As bread becomes scarce in Paris, the question becomes how safe is it for the king and queen and their staff of servants.

Devoted, discreet and clumsy, Sidonie is regularly summoned to read to Marie Antoinette. Their relationship, which alternates between formal and casual, intensifies as France is plagued with unrest. Flirty and flitty, Marie Antoinette also is infatuated with the duchess Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). The queen is not the only one with other amorous pursuits. Sidonie and René (Vladimir Consigny), a gondolier, penniless actor and natural-born liar, have also been eyeing one another.

As the events of revolt continue to mount, including the storming of the Bastille, there is panic in the palace. A pamphlet, containing the names of almost 300 heads to be cut off for “necessary reform,” finds its way to the queen’s hands. At her drama-queen best, Marie Antoinette makes one final demand of Sidonie, in which the queen’s beloved reader will have the chance to make the ultimate sacrifice – herself.

In French with English subtitles, “Farewell, My Queen” is a royal costume drama, with emphasis on both the costumes and the drama. The movie belongs to Seydoux, who gives Sidonie a combination of wide-eyed innocence and the cold stare of experience. Blu-ray features include an interview with writer/director Benoît Jacquot, as well as on-set interviews. 

‘Little White Lies’

“Little White Lies” is a French “Big Chill” right down to its Motown soundtrack. It begins with “total head case” Ludo (Jean Dujardin of “The Artist”), high on various substances, leaving a raucous nightclub at dawn on his scooter and getting slammed by a truck. He is visited in the intensive care unit by his gang of close friends, including his bisexual sometime girlfriend Marie (Marion Cotillard), hot but dumb Antoine (Laurence Lafitte), massage therapist Vincent (Benoît Magimel), actor Eric (Gilles Lellouche), opera singer Lea (Louise Monot) and Juliette (Anne Marivin).

With their summer holiday approaching, the friends must decide whether to cancel it or depart on their annual voyage to the home of the wealthy and wise Max (François Cluzet, who is sort of a French Dustin Hoffman). The consensus is to go, but shorten the length of their stay. As if Ludo’s condition wasn’t enough to set the tone for the trip, married Vincent’s private admission to equally straight buddy Max that he’s inexplicably attracted to him casts an unexpected pall over the festivities.

An assortment of comedic situations balance out the drama. The characters communicate with each other the way longtime friends do, and it is often a pleasure to watch their interactions. The characters smoke pot, discuss their attractions and missed opportunities, pine over past successes and failures, and attempt to make the best of the situation while tragedy looms large. 

The tension grows heavier over the course of the film, leading to a pair of devastating confrontations and revelations that produce a full-on tearjerker of a conclusion. At more than 150 minutes in length, “Little White Lies,” in French with English subtitles, is a big commitment, but then so is friendship. Blu-ray special features include a “behind the scenes” featurette.