Review: A Little Chaos
PLOT: A romance between two landscape artists working on a garden in King Louis XIV’s palace brings friction to the inhabitants of Versailles.
REVIEW: There is very little chaos in Alan Rickman’s mannered and occasionally luminous feature A LITTLE CHAOS. There is beauty here that is for certain, and much of that comes from the dazzling Kate Winslet as Sabine De Barra [an invented character in a historical based story]. In the film, she portrays a landscape artist hired to help build a garden in King Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles. The actress has always been a perfect fit for period drama and this is no exception. This incredible talent shines brightly, even when her on-screen romance with the dashing André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) fails to spark. Yet it is not the performances that falter, it is a script that slowly builds only to quickly come together for a final - if only slightly satisfying - conclusion.
When we meet Sabine - a widow with a secret pain - she is vying for the position to create a lavish garden for King Louis XIV. After a disastrous interview with André, the dashing hero seemingly notices a fire in her “chaotic” landscaping ideas. Soon she is brought into the elaborate world of those living inside the palace, many of whom have found happiness by taking on lovers. As Sabine and André begin to work together, he starts to share her passion for something unique in her designs for an outdoor ballroom. Yet the creation of the garden is hindered by a crew unwilling to work, and a jealous wife Madame Le Notre (Helen McCrory) and her selfish entitlement. All the while King Louis (Alan Rickman) watches, suffering from his own lonely pedestal.
Kate Winslet is a marvelous actress. And her performance here as Sabine is yet another captivating show. With a quiet sadness and the strength it has given her, the actress creates a very strong romantic heroine. In one of the most poignant scenes, she discovers King Louis who is hiding in his own solace. Watching both Winslet and Rickman together in this inspired moment is a thrill. It is almost a shame that the love story did not revolve around these two fine actors. Thankfully though, there is chemistry between her and Schoenaerts. The two work very well together, yet the exploration of their love story takes far too long to realize. When it does finally flourish, it feels rushed and lacks the fire to really impact the audience.
For his second directorial effort, Rickman paints a gorgeous portrait. Along with cinematographer Ellen Kuras, Rickman creates some truly beautiful imagery. The creation of the garden, the palace and the rich landscape are all impressive. Even the beginnings of the garden, when it is simply dirt and mud, is an impressive sight. It is strange however, that near the final act we see it in shambles from a storm and a heartbreaking bit of mischief conducted by Madame Le Notre. Yet after far too much time building the garden, it seems to be quickly resolved without any real drama. Thankfully, the final sequence is quite a wonder. It’s a shame that it lacks the gravitas that it could easily have presented.
As far as period romantic dramas, A LITTLE CHAOS is a commendable effort from Rickman. While it is far from perfect, there is enough here to make it work thanks to the talent involved. If only the script had taken Winslet and Schoenaerts a little further than it does. Even the inevitable love scene seems to be more of an afterthought. Aside from a few quick glances, and a touch of the hand, it takes much too long to be completely effective. At least the attraction worked at times, and I did find myself rooting for their blossoming love affair.
It may not be a fully satisfying tale, yet it is hard to resist the charms of Kate Winslet as Sabine. With a subtle heartbreak and her incredible beauty, it is worth watching simply for her portrait. And even Matthias Schoenaerts is able to supply a good performance, even if the script does him little favor. I didn’t quite buy his envious wife and the lengths she goes to. And I didn’t by the quick resolution. The uneven script tends to build a bit too long to fully satisfy. Yet there is enough to recommend for the beauty on-screen and the commendable performances from all involved - and that scene between Winslet and Rickman is absolutely superb. A LITTLE CHAOS may not be perfect, but thanks to the talent involved you could do far worse.
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