Maïwenn’s “Jeanne du Barry” Fails to Impress Despite its Grandeur

2 mins read
Jeanne du Barry Maïwenn Film

Jeanne du Barry“, the Cannes Film Festival’s opening night selection, is a dramatic exploration of the infamous affair between the legendary courtesan and Louis XV, and the consequent scandal it stirred up in the Palace of Versailles​​.

Maïwenn, the writer-director-actress behind this film, has a reputation for polarizing audiences with her work. Her successful endeavors, like “Polisse“, are marked by riveting ensemble performances that echo the dynamism of John Cassavetes. However, her less successful ventures, such as “DNA“, are often criticized as overblown art-house selfies with Maïwenn at the center​​.

Her latest project, “Jeanne du Barry“, a biopic of the notorious 18th-century French courtesan, was expected to provoke an equally strong reaction. Yet, despite its opulent production and plethora of eye-catching costumes, some courtesy of Chanel, the film surprisingly leaves the audience feeling indifferent, described as beautiful, yet bland​​.

The film’s setting and plot are indeed compelling, with many scenes shot in and around the actual Palace of Versailles and a rags-to-riches narrative, but Maïwenn fails to leverage these elements effectively​​.

Johnny Depp‘s casting as the king initially intrigues but soon loses its charm. His performance is competent, as is Maïwenn’s in the lead role, but neither succeeds in driving the film’s pulse. The result is a handsome period piece that falls flat and shallow, far from the scandalous intrigue one might expect from the collaboration of these two figures with their own share of controversies​​.

The tale of Jeanne du Barry has been visited by the silver screen multiple times, with notable instances being Ernst Lubitsch’s silent film “Passion” and William Dieterle’s “Madame du Barry“. In more recent times, Asia Argento portrayed the king’s infamous mistress in Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette“. This role, Maïwenn claims, motivated her to direct her own rendition of the courtesan’s life​​.

In collaboration with writers Teddy Lussi-Modeste and Nicolas Livecchi, Maïwenn crafts a classic Cinderella story adorned in extravagant attire. The narrative primarily orbits du Barry’s ambition for wealth and social status, with little attention paid to the socio-political climate of the Versailles bubble that enabled her ascension​​.

The film’s most captivating segment unravels before the introduction of the palace. The audience witnesses the remarkable social ascent of Jeanne Bécu, a commoner and illegitimate daughter of a seamstress, as she navigates her way through benefactors and lovers​​. Maïwenn’s direction of these sequences shows a detached and cool authority, reminiscent of Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon“. She paints a brief yet convincing portrait of a young woman left with only two choices: the Bible or the bedroom​​.

Jeanne du Barry Maïwenn Film

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Bécu’s choice to leverage her beauty and intellect in her favor paves her way to the top, attracting the rich and royal who venerate her like a fresh commodity. This intelligence is evident in a powerful scene where Bécu, shown as a voracious reader and capable tutor, seeks peace in a bathtub, only to be disrupted spitefully by the Comte du Barry​​.

Despite the grandeur and historical intrigue, “Jeanne du Barry” fails to deliver a compelling narrative. It has the trappings of a scandalous royal drama but lacks the heart and substance to engage the audience. The result is a beautiful, yet ultimately bland film that leaves viewers yearning for the fiery intensity that Maïwenn’s previous works promised. The historical figure of Jeanne du Barry deserved a more engaging and nuanced portrayal than the one provided in this film.

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