Jeanne du Barry
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘Jeanne du Barry’ review: Is Cannes opening starring Johnny Depp really just another Maïwenn showcase

‘Jeanne du Barry’ review: Is Cannes opening starring Johnny Depp really just another Maïwenn showcase

Jeanne du Barry

Focusing on a dashing notable of this or that royal court, and using them as a sort of dummy upon which to drape noble themes and embellishments, “Jeanne du Barry” is a perfectly serviceable entry into a genre born of the stage and perfected by Old Hollywood: the star showcase. The fact that the icon in the spotlight is writer-director-lead actor Maïwenn, and not her American co-star Johnny Depp, should come as a relief to some, a crushing disappointment to others, and a surprise to no one. Just look at the movie title.

Or, see the author behind the opening of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. For those whose familiarity with the diva ends with the blue make-up she wore in Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element”, the French director has cut her teeth with films with unstable rhythms, “actor’s” feature films that lead to protests high decibels all up to 11 and which (almost always) find an anchor on the screen in the figure of Maïwenn herself. Calling the style “self-infatuated” is less of a criticism than a simple statement of fact. The author promises director and muse wrapped up in one, with a voice louder and more angry than anyone else’s; when i’m not on screen, all the other characters tend to ask, Where is Maiwenn?

With “Jeanne du Barry”, he finally gained access to his time machine. Opening a gilded window onto Versailles under the Ancien Régime, the costumed epic has no shortage of luxury and no shortage of visual delights, often reveling in the ostentatious displays of French royalist power as it plots a familiar tale of rags-to-riches-again rags at the court of Louis XV.

In response to the majestic surroundings, Maïwenn’s previously frenetic camera slows down in turn, covering much of the action in elegant, sweeping compositions filled with soft light. With such a painterly visual scheme and with little drops of ever so tongue-in-cheek voice-over, the film welcomes comparisons to a certain Kubrick classic, particularly in an opening chapter which traces how poor Jeanne Vaubernier acquired the style and title of Jeanne du Barry.

Those means, of course, are carnal, though as we follow the courtesan’s professional rise, we never dwell in the boudoir or dwell on the darker aspects of the plot. Created by Maïwenn and co-writers Teddy Lussi-Modeste and Nicolas Livecchi, the screenplay casts Jeanne as a thoroughly modern lover who makes her way through a storybook world to improve her lot in her life. A business union with the comte du Barry (Melvil Poupaud) – essentially a glorified pimp – brings Jeanne into contact with the king’s valet, La Borde (Benjamin Lavernhe). Like a hairy, pampered Henry Higgins, the palace valet instructs our fair lady in great pomp, ushering her through the halls of mirrors and into the king’s bedchamber, while Jeanne plays the ersatz audience.

And boy, what a surrogate does it play, building to a dizzying peak as Jeanne watches the King’s dressing ceremony from behind a one-way mirror. In a delightful and cunningly directed sequence, Maïwenn crystallizes the underlying allure of the palace genre and finds his expression more powerful than himself. Which is to say, the director acknowledges that we cram into such pageantry for both of us to enjoy ourselves AND take the piss and that the two reactions are mutually necessary for the whole thing to work. Like your Twitter feed to the Oscars or a friend on the couch at your recent coronation, Jeanne serves as your onscreen confidante and safety valve, venting the air in the stuffiest room you’ve ever seen with barely stifled laughter, while from behind the camera, director Maïwenn orchestrates an ornate work of courtiers with gravity-defying Pompadours.

Meeting her lover from the night before in the eye, Jeanne uses that moment to solidify her bond with Louis XV, played, of course, by Johnny Depp. Though she performs entirely in French and has a lot of screen time, the American star leaves a strangely poor impression, delivering a muted, quiet turn that showcases her wider reputation in often charming ways.

Presented as the object of Jeanne’s gaze, and almost never seen without a new mistress at his side, Louis is less subject than object, a conquest for the courtesan and a high-value gain – bargained at a price no doubt reduced due to of extenuating circumstances – which offers French production a further luster. For Louis is a man long gone, a former sun king whose brilliance has dimmed in luxury and indulgence, but whose name—and the power he still wields—endures; and if the two interpreters never quite light a spark, their narrative (and metatextual) connection never strains credulity.

“Joan of Barry”Cannes

Still, despite all those self-aware taps and inspired casting winks, ‘Jeanne du Barry’ sells out awfully fast. While following a historically accurate rush through Louis XV’s final years from his mistress’s perch, the narrative has little ground to cover once that commoner flame asserts her position at her court. Rather than ratcheting up the tension with a third-act reversal, latecomer Marie-Antoinette (Pauline Pollmann) lays bare the harsh limitations of keeping Jeanne our sole center of gravity.

Though both wives would later meet sudden and similar endings in a revolution that seeped imperceptibly off the screen, the film resists any impetus for larger thematic echoes. Like every other character, the new dauphin offers Jeanne both an admirer and a hindrance, but never an equal, hardly a scene partner, and at no time an opportunity to flesh out the biographical narrative that “Jeanne du Barry” is ostensibly seeking. to honor.

More frustrating than a misfire, “Jeanne du Barry” instead suffers from near-total myopia, roaring to life with wit and ingenuity when the constellations align and the protagonist’s star is allowed to shine, and dwindles before the risk of any possible eclipse. The film burns hot and bright and goes out quickly.

Grade: B-

“Jeanne du Barry” premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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