Jeanne du Barry

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Jeanne du Barry
dir-scr Maiwenn
prd Pascal Caucheteux, Konstantin Elkin, Gregoire Sorlat
with Maiwenn, Johnny Depp, Benjamin Lavernhe, Melvil Poupaud, Pierre Richard, Pascal Greggory, Pauline Pollmann, Diego Le Fur, Capucine Valmary, Thibault Bonenfant, Djibril Djimo, Ibrahim Yaffa
release Fr 16.May.23,
UK 19.Apr.24, US 2.May.24
23/France 1h57

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While her story has been told many times, actor-filmmaker Maiwenn's biopic traces the life of Louis XV's favourite Madame du Barry with unusual attention to detail. She also finds larger themes in this iconic woman's determination to live on her own terms within the restrictive rules of the 18th century French royal court. Beautifully assembled, the film bristles with humour, earthy emotions and a range of vividly well-crafted characters.
Born into poverty, 20-year-old Jeanne (Maiwenn) is working in a Paris brothel when Jean-Baptiste du Barry (Poupaud) takes her in, grooming her as an aristocratic courtesan. Visiting Versailles, she catches the eye of King Louis (Depp), who installs her as his chief mistress, but only after she's hastily certified as a suitable countess. Over six years, Louis dotes on Jeanne, presenting lavish jewellery and slave boy Zamor (Yaffa then Djimo). But his sneering daughters refuse to accept her. And when Marie Antoinette (Pollmann) arrives to marry the Dauphin (Le Fur), they poison her against Jeanne.
Relationships drive the narrative, which makes the film strongly engaging. In addition to the sparky, tender connection between Jeanne and Louis, Jeanne also forms a strong bond with his valet La Borde (Lavernhe), who emerges as a key figure. Her tricky connection to her husband Jean-Baptiste features a startling range of interaction, while Jeanne finds unexpectedly warm connections with his son Adolphe (Bonenfant), Zamor and the Dauphin. Although all of these are tested by the period's extraordinary circumstances.

Performances have a relaxed quality keeps the characters from being overwhelmed by the lavish costumes and grandiose settings. Maiwenn occasionally feels miscast in the role, but gives Jeanne a wonderful inner light, confident in who she is even as she becomes devoted to Louis right up until his death from smallpox. Depp gives Louis a wry sense of humour, revealing that his passion is sparked by her independent spirit. This makes later scenes unusually moving. And the supporting cast finds strong textures as well, most notably Lavernhe.

This is the story of a woman who knows who she is and refuses to be anyone else, even as she fully understands the constricting aspects of her society. Jeanne's single-mindedness is cleverly represented in her forward-thinking connections with people, as well as her singular fashion sense, which elicits horrified gasps from courtiers who of course quickly adopt her style. Maiwenn's light touch as a writer, director and actor help keep the film buoyant and fizzy, even if we know that there won't be a happy ever after.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 15.Apr.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall