Film Review: A Little Chaos

Introducing the romantic leading man for this spring.  Matthias Schoenaerts.  If the name doesn’t jangle any bells, you may have seen the Belgian actor last month as a musical German officer in World War II romance, Suite Francaise.  He’s back again next month as one of Carey Mulligan’s suitors in the re-make of Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd.  As of this week, however, he’s a royal gardener at the court of Louis XIV and the woman in his sights is Kate Winslet.  The film is Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos, which opens on Friday, certificate 12A.

It’s a film, and a role, miles away from his usual territory – a drug addict in Bullhead (2011), ex-boxer in Rust And Bone (2012) and the manipulative local thug in The Drop (2014).  So does he have what it takes to be a heart throb?  And is there more to A Little Chaos than just beautiful flowers?  London Mums’ film critic, Freda Cooper, puts on her gardening gloves …..

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The story

In Paris of 1682, Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) is something of a rarity – a female landscape designer and gardener.  Unexpectedly in the running to design a new garden for King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman), her chances appear slim as her spontaneous and radical style is at odds with that of the King’s landscape artist, Le Notre (Schoenaerts).  But he gives her the job – to build a garden at the new Palace of Versailles.  Sabine finds herself thrust into a whole new world, a world that she can influence and change for the better.

 

The trailer

 

 

The verdict

Best known as Harry Potter’s Professor Snape, Alan Rickman has ventured behind the camera for the second time to direct A Little Chaos, but has set himself the additional – and new – challenge of taking one of the lead roles in the movie as well, that of the Sun King himself, Louis XIV.  He has his hands full with a film set among the intricate artifice of the French court.  It should be a refreshingly simple story but he appears so captivated by it that he can’t let go – and the result is something so puffed up that its appeal is all but buried.

The truth is that A Little Chaos is a little story, charming in its simplicity and begging to be told in a direct, uncluttered way.   It’s certainly a visual feast.  The interiors are sumptuous, the costumes ravishing and the gardens themselves, especially Sabine’s own unconventional piece of paradise at home, truly beautiful.  But cinematographer Ellen Kuras has almost too much to feast her lens on and dwells too long on her shots.  The result is a film that runs for two hours, and feels slow and drawn out as a result.  The irony is that there are moments when you expect – nay, want – her to linger over certain images.  Yet she doesn’t!

 

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Rickman’s brought together an attractive cast.  Winslet’s Sabine is an intuitive gardener, unafraid of introducing a little chaos into the order so prized by Le Notre.  As the King’s garden architect, Schoenaerts seems constrained to the point of stiff, yet strangely he doesn’t follow the court’s dress code, foregoing the customary elaborate wig.  The combination of his long hair and designer stubble makes him look like a hippy in a frock coat.

The stand-out performance, however, comes from Stanley Tucci as the King’s brother, the Duc D’Orleans, a key player at court.  Perceptive, flamboyant and only making a half-hearted attempt to conceal that he’s gay, it’s extraordinary how alike both Tucci and Rickman appear in their respective finery.  They really could pass for brothers.  Although Rickman’s King is the complete opposite in character – sparing with words and facial expressions, lonely and completely isolated, even when he’s surrounded by hundreds of people.

 

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Mum’s rating: 5/10             

A Little Chaos is simply a small film that lasts far too long.  Romantic?  Undoubtedly.  Lovely to look at?  Certainly.  But, like the court of Louis XIV himself, everything is on the surface and there seems to be little of substance underneath.  Green fingered movie goers, however, can at least console themselves by enjoying the beautiful gardens.

 

A Little Chaos goes on general release on Friday, 17 April 2015.

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