A LITTLE CHAOS
Director: Alan Rickman
Cast: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Helen McCrory, Steven Waddington, Cathy Belton, Jennifer Ehle, Stanley Tucci
MPAA Rating: (for some sexuality and brief nudity)
Running Time: 1:57
Release Date: 6/26/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 25, 2015
A Little Chaos could be the story of a troubled woman who overcomes her demons and the contemporary social expectations of her sex to achieve her greatest professional triumph. It could be the story of two artists who hold different aesthetic philosophies but who find themselves attracted to each other for the other's ideas and personality. It could be the story of the design for and execution of the creation of the Gardens of the Palace of Versailles, with all the various technical and political hurdles that needed to be overcome. The movie could be any of these stories, but the screenplay by Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan, and director Alan Rickman wants to be all them. The result is an imprecise movie that feels like it's none of them.
That's a shame, because the historical foundation of the central narrative is a potentially fascinating one. Yes, the movie admits from the start that its factual basis in history begins and ends with the existence of an outdoor ballroom in the Gardens of Versailles, suggesting that we can assume the movie's characters, their actions, and/or their motivations are partially or entirely creations of fiction.
It doesn't matter because those tremendous gardens exist, and the very notion of learning how they came to be is at least a little exciting. The details of their formation may be a footnote in history, but footnotes exist to expand our understanding of the people and events of much greater importance. Surely one has come across a particularly dry passage in a history book, only to have one's curiosity piqued by some little tidbit of information below the main text. That's the promise of the movie—that something that seems relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things may tell us something a little different about the people, the culture, and the history of France in the late 17th century.
We don't get a history lesson here, but we don't expect one, either. We do at least expect something interesting by way of real history or historical fiction, but we don't get that, either.
The movie opens with King Louis XIV (Rickman) preparing his speech to announce the royal court's move from Paris to Versailles in front of his wife and children. It's a apparently meant to lift the veil of a powerful man as he attempts to explain the art of public speaking to those kids, who may very well need to follow in his footsteps one day, but it instead comes across as a forcefully cute way to introduce the plot.
We next meet Sabine De Bara (Kate Winslet), an independent (and fictional) landscape artist who receives notice that she will be interviewed to help create the gardens of the king's new palace. When she arrives at the manor of André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts), the architect in charge of garden project, Sabine moves a single potted plant out of formation on the grounds of André's home. This, apparently, is her method of design, to put, as the title dictates, a little chaos into order.
André is appalled by the notion and dismisses her from his presence before she can say much of anything about her design philosophy, and honestly, that's about the end of any real discussion of art and/or aesthetics in the movie.
What follows is an underwhelming, staid romantic melodrama about two emotionally constipated people who dance around their mutual attraction for each other because acknowledging and acting upon it would bring the story to an immediate finale. The hindrance for Sabine is her past, which involves a haunting (literally in a certain regard, because she sees ghosts) tragedy that turned her into a widow and mother to a dead child. André is deterred by his marriage, which revolves around an unusual contract that allows his aristocratic and, later, unconvincingly villainous wife (Helen McCrory) to carry on affairs with other men in exchange for her social support of André. Of course, none of these factors really matter, because they are dismissed quickly and easily once the inevitable lovers' dance has gone around in circles enough times for the screenwriters' liking.
All of it feels haphazardly assembled. The construction of the outdoor ballroom hardly plays into things, except to introduce the project and to bring external conflict into the story. The lovers are dull, and whatever the movie wants to say about the culture and society of the time is crammed into a few scenes of the king's court acting foppish and the women of the court revealing how their experiences don't matter to the men. A Little Chaos is a depiction of an intriguing historical footnote that could use a few interesting footnotes of its own.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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