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CANNES 2023 Out of Competition

Review: Jeanne du Barry


- CANNES 2023: After all the buzz and controversy around it, Maïwenn’s latest feature is a pleasant period drama and a decent opener of this year’s Cannes Film Festival

Review: Jeanne du Barry
Johnny Depp and Maïwenn in Jeanne du Barry

“C’est grotesque,” says Pauline Pollmann’s Marie Antoinette when Jean-Benjamin de La Borde (Benjamin Lavernhe), the king’s premier valet de la chambre, refuses to let her into Louis XV’s (Johnny Depp) bedroom, as the monarch is sick and looks set to die of smallpox. “C’est Versailles,” de La Borde answers firmly, and in this brief exchange, there is perhaps the very essence of Maïwenn’s Jeanne du Barry [+see also:
film profile
, the opening film of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, playing out of competition.

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Today, we could say that “grotesque” is the word that best defines most of the relationships occurring between the characters portrayed in this film, but back in 18th-century France, living “grotesque” was the norm at the Palace of Versailles. The sappy mannerisms, the tiny steps that everyone had to take backwards so as not to turn their backs towards the king, the annoying giggles, the monarch’s everyday ritual accompanied by a vast entourage of flatterers, the improbable make-up and the stiff wigs – this was all part of their everyday life. And Versailles is the place that Jeanne du Barry (played by the director herself), a working-class woman who becomes a courtesan to escape a life of servitude, manages to sneak into, ending up as the king’s favourite.

Commendably, there’s not too much sugarcoating throughout the picture. Yes, the romance is predictably an important part of the plot, but Maïwenn chooses not to idealise any of her characters. For example, we realise that Jeanne is cultured and caring towards some of the people she encounters along the way, but she is, after all, a social climber, and kindly admits it. The king says he loves Jeanne and shows some kind of sensitivity, but he is – for the most part – cowardly, selfish and comfortably secluded in his royal bubble. Most of the people around them – including Louis XV’s daughters (India Hair, Suzanne de Baecque and Capucine Valmary) and Jeanne’s new “rival”, the young Marie Antoinette – never act unselfishly, and prove to be manipulative, unreliable and hypocritical beings.

All in all, it’s a playful, joyous, absurd yet tragic film. And even though it does not excel at any one of these components and doesn’t dig too deep, the final result is ultimately balanced, entertaining and gripping enough to keep viewers hooked for almost two hours. Moreover, the cast is solid and the voice-over narration proves effective – in particular during the prologue and towards the end – in telling us about Jeanne’s fate without taking lengthy twists and turns.

Technically speaking, the feature does not aim for historical accuracy. Everything is clean and pleasant, perhaps even a bit too nifty. For the audience, however, this viewing experience is still a feast for the eyes thanks to the sumptuous cinematography by Laurent Dailland, the colourful costumes by Jürgen Doering and Angelo Zamparutti’s majestic production design. Furthermore, the orchestral score – courtesy of Stephen Warbeck – chimes in at the right times, imbuing the narrative’s main turning points with much solemnity.

Jeanne du Barry was produced by French outfits Why Not Productions, France 2 Cinéma and France 3 Cinéma, Belgium’s Les Films du Fleuve and the UK’s IN.2 Film. Goodfellas is in charge of its international sales.

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Photogallery 16/05/2023: Cannes 2023 - Jeanne du Barry

22 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Maïwenn, Johnny Depp, Pascal Greggory, Pierre Richard, Suzanne De Baecque, Pauline Pollmann, Diego Le Fur
© 2023 Fabrizio de Gennaro for Cineuropa -,

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