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Jeanne du Barry Review | Johnny Depp and Maïwenn Have Royal Chemistry


Jeanne du Barry Review | Johnny Depp and Maïwenn Have Royal Chemistry


Summary

  • Jeanne du Barry
    is a regal visual feast thanks Maïwenn’s keen direction.
  • Maïwenn and Johnny Depp have a genuine chemistry and portray a distinct love in quiet, subtle ways.
  • The portraits of Jeanne, Louis XV, and other people may be a bit one-dimensional and ahistorical, but
    Jeanne du Barry
    has impressive themes and gorgeous visuals nonetheless.



Jeanne du Barry is a film of gestures and glances, not sweeping monologues and action. It has some of the court intrigue found in titles like The Other Boleyn Girl, The Madness of King George, and Dangerous Liaisons, but ultimately isn’t interested in the backroom wheeling and dealing of monarchic power players. As the title implies, the film is a biography of Jeanne Bécu, who would become Madame du Barry, and mostly focuses on her time at Versailles as the chief mistress of King Louis XV.


Jeanne du Barry offers a gorgeous look at Versailles in the years leading up to the French Revolution, when the Jacobins would change everything about power in France. Class consciousness would fuel that violent period, and the film itself is very much centered on class; Jeanne was the ‘illegitimate’ child of a poor seamstress and would spend time as a sex worker during the Libertine era of France before climbing a ladder made of men and reaching the King himself. As such, she was considered scandalous, threatening the customs and image of Versailles, but she was a favorite of the King.

Filmmaker and star Maïwenn creates a subtle, sexy, and sensitive portrait of the woman and her time with the King, while also providing a quiet commentary on power and class.


Maïwenn and Johnny Depp Create Sparks

Jeanne du Barry

Jeanne du Barry

4/5

Jeanne du Barry is a historical drama that tells the story of the titular character who, on her journey out of the clutches of poverty, catches the eye of King Louis XV. Concealing her identity from him, Jeanne earns his favor, and the two fall in love, but upon moving to Versailles to deepen their relationship, scandal strikes France’s court.

Release Date
May 2, 2024

Director
Maïwenn

Cast
Maïwenn , Johnny Depp , Pierre Richard , Melvil Poupaud , Pascal Greggory , Benjamin Lavernhe

Runtime
116 Minutes

Distributor(s)
Vertical Entertainment

Pros

  • Johnny Depp and Maïwenn have great chemistry in this period romance.
  • Maïwenn creates a visually stunning movie that feels like a regal painting.
  • An interesting study of class and the ephemeral nature of power.
Cons

  • Paints perhaps too one-dimensional a picture of Jeanne, Louis XV, and the period.


Of course, Jeanne du Barry has generated the most attention from its casting of Johnny Depp as King Louis XV. It’s basically Depp’s first film following the infamous trial between him and Amber Heard, and whatever you think of that issue, it’s undeniable that he’s charming and sad here. It’s hard to tell how much of this is stunt casting; this is a completely French film, and while Depp’s French is good, his dialogue does seem limited based on his French lexicon. But again, what Depp does with his eyes and his body is captivating.

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There’s an Ecclesiastical air to his character, as if Louis has become indifferent to all the luxury, gluttony, sex, and power that he has. When Jeanne appears in his life, he seems to rekindle a sense of meaning in his life again.


For Jeanne’s part, she did what she had to do as a female commoner in the 18th century; as she says at one point, she chose “harlotry” above peasantry. She’s used her beauty to situate herself in the lives and manors of rich men, and King Louis XV is basically the apotheosis of this. She is enamored with him, but in a human way that violates all the tiny and petty rules of the court (the proper way to curtsy, how to back away from the King, etc.).


Depp and Maïwenn have a palpable chemistry here, and watching the ebbs and flows of their relationship is an often mesmerizing study of desire, power, class, and downright joy. Of course, this scandalizes the monarchy, and Louis XV’s family is none too pleased. Maïwenn paints Louis’ daughters and the other power-players of Versailles in an almost cartoonishly evil light, and the portrait of Louis’ grandson, Louis XVI, is one-dimensionally heroic. There are three or four scenes that replicate the same situation — Louis’ daughters humiliate Jeanne, and Louis’ grandson stands up to support her.

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A Visually Beautiful Whitewashing of Jeanne and King Louis XV


Maïwenn is often glowing in the film, using her beautiful hair and broad smile effectively. Her laughter and innocent dismissal of pomp and circumstance is delightful. If anything, Maïwenn paints too kind a portrait of Jeanne and Louis XV, discarding any aspect of their characters that wasn’t touched by passion and love. They become heroes, an odd thing considering the state of France at the time and the fact that the guillotine would begin chopping off the heads of Versailles during Jeanne’s lifetime. This may be offensive to some people (historians and socialists, most likely). Regardless, Jeanne du Barry is a historical romance film and not a historical document for academics.

However, as a director, Maïwenn’s portrayal of France in the mid-to-late 18th century is objectively stunning and historically honest to the layperson. The filmmaker creates a series of beautiful tableaux vivants that practically bring great French neoclassicism to life, with images that feel straight from Jacques-Louis David’s sketchbook.


Maïwenn and cinematographer Laurent Dailland use the play of light and shadow in very sensual ways, and her long shots of massive manors and rooms are regal and impressive. Stephen Warbeck’s score is suitably tender and majestic, even if it does feel like just a less bombastic version of his score for Shakespeare in Love 25 years ago.

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The Real Jeanne and the Ephemeral Nature of All Things

One of the most interesting facets of Jeanne du Barry is how it subtly explores the expendable qualities of people and positions, and the transitory nature of desire and power. This is most typified in the phrase, “The King is dead! Long live the King!” One King dies, and another is ready to take his place. One mistress or lover falls out of favor, and another takes its place. The coming French Revolution would exacerbate this idea to a delirious degree.


In fact, Jeanne du Barry introduces us to Zamor, the former slave who would serve as the page for Jeanne. In the film, Jeanne is deeply protective of Zamor and treats him like a son. In return, he looks to her as a mother. In reality, Zamor was sufficiently bitter at Jeanne that he helped imprison her and was responsible for her beheading (which is very vaguely mentioned in the film’s post-text). And then, typical of the French Revolution, Zamor himself was imprisoned for being Jeanne’s page and for ever having associated with her. Power reigns at one moment, and is subjugated at the next. The King is dead, long live the King. Or, as The Who sang, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

And thus is the sweet sadness of Jeanne du Barry. We see the love between her and Louis XV burn bright and fast before being replaced by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who, of course, would be killed in the French Revolution. We see Jeanne as a beautiful young woman, and we see her as a graying and melancholic older woman. We see the king in power, and we see him dying of smallpox. If anything, despite capturing just one brief period in the life of a King, Jeanne du Barry is a moving meditation on the ephemeral nature of all things.


From Why Not Productions and Vertical, Jeanne du Barry hits theaters May 2, 2024. You can get tickets and find showtimes here.

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