I was really looking forward to watching a film directed by Alan Rickman. I, like most people in the English-speaking world, have a strong affection for Rickman as an actor. From Die Hard to Sense and Sensibility to Galaxy Quest (and apparently he is in some wizard film I haven’t seen), he has established himself as one of the most engaging actors of the last 30 years. So it brings me no pleasure point out that A Little Chaos is a terrible boring mess of a film.
The film is set in 1670s France during the building of Versailles. King Louis XIV’s official landscaper gardener looks to hire someone to design and build a fountain as part of the gardens. Of the potential landscapers he chooses a woman, Sabine de Barra. This setup seem to indicate a story about a woman ahead of her time in a male-dominated world and there are certainly elements of that narrative. However, the problem is there are elements of so many different themes all incoherently mixed in. Sometimes the film is about gender roles, others times about the nature of romantic relationships and the importance of monogamy, then the focus shifts to post traumatic stress, then the isolation of class roles in society. There were more, but it was really exhausting trying to keep track of the story jumping from one point to another across the ridiculous number of forgettable characters.
On top of sheer number of themes, each were thrown at the audience in such heavy handed ways, which is not only bad filmmaking, but often made these shifts jarring. I will give Rickman credit that it was bold to try and encompass so many elements into a single film, but unlike more assured filmmakers, such as Robert Altman, there was no through-line to the story.
Another bold aspect of the film was setting it in Baroque-period France. This was one of the most opulent and extravagant times in European history and Versailles was very much the epitome of this. However, it was clear that the film lacked the budget to portray this lavishness. The filming techniques used to overcome this just creating a feeling that everything was small and a look that was very bland. All of this made for one of the least engaging films I have ever seen in a cinema.
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