Jeanne du Barry

The narrative represented in Jeanne Du Barry is more of a historical timeline walkthrough.  There isn’t a plot-based backbone, and the film isn’t necessarily character driven either.  Instead, the audience is presented with important people from a specific era, their individual impacts, and the decadence that surrounded them.  That may not sound like much of a movie, but this biopic’s secret weapon is the filmmaker’s love for the subject matter.  If I want someone to be my tour guide through this lavish time period, I want it to be writer/director/star Maïwenn.

Jeanne du Barry is anchored by the relationship between the King of France Louis XV (Johnny Depp, last seen in Minamata) and his last lover and mistress Jeanne (MaÏwenn).  The romance develops fast, as does du Barry’s backstory from her promiscuous youth through to her days as a popular courtesan.  But once Louis XV and du Barry first lock eyes, their chemistry is off the charts.  While the attraction may be presented as a cliché, the King’s lust for Jeanne’s rebellious behaviour is convincing as is Jeanne’s attraction for a high-ruler who respects her individuality. 

As off-kilter as their roles are, both Maïwenn and Depp are charming.  For Depp, other than the challenge of making his French language acting debut, Louis XV isn’t really a demanding part.  However, his performance reminds audiences how good of a detective he is when it comes to figuring out why his character is so desirable to others.  Maïwenn’s performance occupies the opposite side of the judgemental coin, as she portrays how Jeanne endured constant criticisms from nosy outsiders.  It’s a one-sided perspective, but her acting sells Jeanne’s heartache well.

The threadbare Versailles-set story, however, is used for Maïwenn to hang eye-popping, classical visuals on.  Jeanne de Barry is a lush biopic with an artistic joie de vivre, from the costuming and make-up to the wide-scope cinematography.  Watching the movie is a pleasure for the audience.  Maïwenn’s indulgence for this era may be the initial momentum driving this project (after all, she did cast herself in the leading role), but it’s impossible for us to get her in trouble for abusing the system to live out a royal dream.  At the end of the day, Maïwenn wants to share her enthusiasm.  In a genre full of stuffy entries, this heady approach is an effort worth welcoming.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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