Tag Archives: A Little Chaos

A Little Chaos film review

At last – now the film is officially released, I can share my reviews with you – you can read about my first red carpet and how it fits into Kate Winslet’s repertoire by clicking on her name in the tag cloud on the right.

A Little Chaos is about the challenge to its opposite – order. André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), head gardener for Louis XIV’s new palace in the country, has learned order from two sources that have gone before – his father, and the Greco-Romans. Nature will be made symmetrical and predictable and to do the will of men (literally) – until a woman (Kate Winslet) appears, asking to be part of Versailles’ great grandeur. Sabine is everything chaotic and pattern breaking: a freelance single woman with no great professional background, no blue blood pedigree, and whose personal garden is wild and unfettered. ‘Isn’t this your taste?’ Andre asks Sabine with a little derision when they arrive at the unmanaged site that will become the parterres and rockeries familiar today.

When asked, ‘do you respect order?’ Sabine answers that order informs her designs, but implies that something new is needed, something uniquely French, and female. Yet Sabine’s designs that André initially discards have order and are less dissimilar to the other applicants than they really ought to be – and quite unlike the cottage garden Sabine has at home.

At the British premiere, Alan Rickman made clear that while observations were factual (such as the king’s being watched sleeping by several people), that this is not historically true or sadly, possible for Sabine to have held the position she did at that time. Not being true means that the storytellers have to work harder for us to believe how this C17th woman got the attention of the King’s household. The question I wondered was – how did Sabine dare apply to work on the design of the garden of Versailles? How did she know about it? Perhaps she was invited to André’s for interview for pure curiosity, even to put her down – although he does not criticise her gender or audacity, only her designs.

Although this is of the initially-at-odds category of potential love interest, the first flash that they may be kindred is Andre’s belief about gardens – again, coming from his father (note traditional, even Biblical overtones). God started humans off in a garden, and only few have the gift to reclaim that… what? Beauty, freedom, divine communion, growth, balance… gardens lend themselves to many analogies, not spelt out by the film, which otherwise is God and spirituality free.

Symmetry and its opposite is found throughout the film. There are three threesomes: the married King and his mistress (two actually), Andre and his wife and Sabine; Sabine and her husband and his mistress; the duc d’Orlean (Stanley Tucci) and his “fat German” wife and his boyfriend. All of them are held by convention to the partner that doesn’t suit and held away from the one(s) that they want. And all must learn to cleave and leave. Sabine uses a garden analogy to gently steer the King from unkindness to respect of his lover (Jennifer Ehle), showing that care and tending are needed for a lasting flower, and to accept the cycles of nature mean that full bloom is not eternal for any of us. (I found that last part negative and untrue).

Whilst order – of the rockery amphitheatre – is being made out of the wild sloping chaos at Versailles, nature is still bursting in through mud, storm, and then some less than natural intervention involving Sabine’s invention which harnesses nature to create both attractive features and solutions for the garden as a whole. The human manipulation or oversight of nature leads to both triumphs and tragedies.

There are many opposites at work, trying to find synthesis – another being country and city (the established Louvre palace vs new Versailles) – and the paradox that rich high ranking courtiers are not free but at the whim of the king. Initially intimidating to Sabine, she quickly has something that courtiers don’t – freedom, independence, and a greater depth… and she becomes a  celebrity at court. Sabine’s raw idea is melded with André’s to become a famous existing feature of Versailles’s grounds, though it’s still far from the garden she tends at home and not so easy to distinguish from the exacting manipulated shapes of the rest of the gardens. The relationships ends with more traditional symmetry – this is “ A Little” Chaos, not utter revolution.


Gardens as film making

As Thomas Betteridge wrote of Elizabeth (1998), could this be a film about making films? I felt that the analogy was a much stronger one in Chaos: budgets, crews, directors (Louis XIV as a studio boss, or producer?) – and Andre and Sabine as effective Arts department, building a set for the great show that ends the film (the dance of all the main characters around the King in his successfully completed vision).

There’s also the element of chaos as narrative: an inciting incident brings chaos to status quo, and the rest of the tale is about regaining it, with further chaos at a mid and end point before resolution – often a synthesis of ideas (as André’s and Sabine’s garden design) and a definite before/after recognisable finished product – in this case, from swamp to garden feature which has order but also a little chaos in it

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Kate Winslet 4 – does A Little Chaos continue her patterns?

Another Kate Winslet post as I got the nearest to actually seeing her – except, I was, in the words of U2, faraway so close. I attended a gala screening at her home country’s largest film festival, London’s 58th . “It’s so important to be here, I’ve been coming since I was 19” she said at the 57th LFF at the gala screening I missed. But this year’s red carpet contained only her co star and director, Alan Rickman; Kate sent a video message from Australia.

Disappointment aside – and it’s a big one, for I’d not only have seen her (and walked the same carpet) but heard her give a speech and quite possibly been able to ask her a question – I move to the film itself and how it fits in with my other observations about her career.

I’ve no idea if there’s an embargo but I am not doing any plot spoiling until the film is released in the UK and I’ll be sharing other reviews at that time.

So I have to be careful what I say on the mad or dead pattern, except that both are possibilities once again. There was a Titanic moment where she is submerged in water dramatically, though she’s less of the action heroine this time. Sabine De Barra is another woman who, like Adele in Labor Day, has something to reveal around motherhood which is affecting her life, and this is the opportunity for her to face that and move beyond it. Like Adele, Sabine is a woman who is not going out into the world as she might, and finds a portal in which to do so.

In Labor Day and Titanic, that portal is opened by someone else; in Hideous Kinky and Holy Smoke, she’s chosen the adventure, as she has in A Little Chaos – she’s made an application which could get her from her own garden into a far wider one, which is very daring given her background and the era. (In fact, that is a criticism of the film’s premise I have). As always, she doesn’t walk through the portal alone. Her companions here are twofold – the head gardener, Andre le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts from Rust and Bone which I talk about on here) and the King himself – Alan Rickman avec un wig.

Allow me a little chaos and divergence. Kate told Toronto Film Festival journalists last month that it was good to be English again, but I’m confused: yes it was filmed here and she’s talking in her normal accent, but it’s set in France. Alan Rickman was wrong at the premiere yesterday when he said it is all filmed here – Fontainebleau’s exterior is definitely a French chateau. Regarding the issues of the M25 [London’s ring road] and flight paths spoiling filming, I wanted to say to Alan – don’t be so Londocentric then! There’s plenty more of Britain! Neither Ham House nor Bleinham Palace are particularly French looking, and only Matthias Schoenaerts [too many double vowels] is French speaking (actually Belgian) out of the quite large cast, most of whom are British. This invites a Quills comparison – another French story with English speaking cast and accents, filmed close to London whilst Kate was pregnant. Kate’s not been in a European film for a decade, since Finding Neverland; she reminded me of her role as Sylvia when she played Sabine – perhaps it’s the blonde hairstyle and period setting and both characters’ genuine warmth. Kate also recalls Daenerys from Game Of Thrones, with very light hair and skin and dark eyebrows, and a sort of fairytale wench look (again invoking memory of Quills, though this is set over 100 years earlier, in 1680s).

As an ideas based historic drama with a central romance, A Little Chaos could be further compared with Quills, but whereas Quills’s content could shock, Chaos will have a lower cert and therefore wider audience. Chaos felt like the last time she worked with Alan Rickman – Sense and Sensibility – for the (I predict) crowd pleasing, anglophile loving audience who want to think, laugh, cry and gasp – the same recipe as James Cameron claimed to put into Titanic; but this is a peculiarly British offering of The King’s Speech et al mould, which has either royalty real life or aristocratic literature as its source.

Again, Kate’s relationship is focussed on a potential love interest, and like The Holiday, in a third older male figure who helps her free her strictures (that time it was Eli Good/Bad/Ugly Wallach, her Hollywood neighbour, helping her let go of her broken heart; this time, it’s the King, assisting in the same area). But she’s again lacking in female companionship. The LFF guide comments on the strength of women in A Little Chaos, but apart from her housekeeper and a bizarre scene with the underused Jennifer Ehle and the other courtly women (one of whom whips out her breasts) Sabine is surrounded by men. The only woman she might seriously have relationship with is a rival, almost enemy played by Helen McCrory: the wife of Andre.

Chaos as a theme in Kate’s films

Kate is nearly always involved in the bringing in of a new order and disturbing a pattern. Sometimes, as here, she is the instigator; often it’s that accomplice, such as Jack in Titanic, James Barrie in Finding Neverland, who begins something and she is a collaborator and instrument. Broken patterns include asylum running (Quills – she smuggles the writings of the person who causes it to be burned down and her own sensuality is a foil for the celibate Abbe in charge); she rocks the suitable marriage and a set out upper class life in Titanic; her stories and friendship bring disturbance to the expectations of her school and two families (and ultimately society) in Heavenly Creatures; as Marianne in Sense and Sensibility she does not behave as set out by society (though this is the one story she doesn’t break out of but conforms to the pattern, as I’ve written on here in more detail). She breaks patterns in Jude as the woman who won’t marry and thinks railway stations replace cathedrals as places to gather and be impressed; her going to India is about embracing a life that disturbs Sydney suburbia in Holy Smoke and then she ruins the de-programmer’s procedure. She’s also being chaotic in Hideous Kinky by going to another random by Western standards country on a whim with her children, without having secure work. As Adele in Labor Day she breaks with pattern when she becomes prison escapee Frank’s lover. Mildred Pierce is convention breaking for leaving her husband during the Depression and setting up her own business and supporting her play boy (and as a mother – she’s way off any expectation, for that or any time). In Enigma, she stirs up chaos at Bletchley Park by discovering a wartime official secret and going beyond her lowly duty to show what she is really capable of. Perhaps Enigma then is the closest precedent to A Little Chaos: a woman who fulfils her professional potential, ahead of her time in cahoots with an initially resistant man who is getting all the credit.

The antithesis would be Divergent where as Janine, Kate is busy creating and sustaining order after the chaos of revolution – and note this is her first baddie role. It is also true that Hanna in The Reader is someone who is obsessed by order, which replaces her ability to have a moral compass and relate compassionately: this was her least sympathetic, most morally challenged role to date (more on here on that film). The pattern of pattern breaking is also in Little Children (misfit mum has affair), Romance and Cigarettes (another affair and antithesis to S&S), Hamlet (for the affair and then her chaotic spiral into madness); and Iris and Eternal too are about someone who’s nonconformist; April’s busy breaking with convention to escape Revolutionary Road life, and strongly understood by a man with mental health problems who is seen as chaotic by society.

So there’s few films in the Winslet filmography where Kate plays someone who doesn’t fit my chaos theory.

But isn’t chaos part of a story’s tension, and therefore inevitable?

Look out for more of my reviews and analysis nearer the film’s UK release – links will be posted here.

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My first red carpet: is it the experience that counts?

There was an advert in cinemas with a Scots voice intoning – “Cinema, it’s the experience that counts”. Preaching to the converted, I thought, but it is the experience of seeing a film in a large room on a big screen with others which makes leaving the house (as opposed to ever easier home viewing) worthwhile.

So what about the experience of seeing a film in an extra special setting – that of film festival, or better still, a premiere?

This was not my first film festival or occasion when cast or crew took part in the programme, but it was my first red carpet at Britain’s biggest film festival in London’s Leicester Square, the traditional site of many of the nation’s first showings.

When I enquired at the box office what the procedure was for ticket holders to enter the screening, staff teased and said I had to use a secret tunnel! But I did reasonably wonder, with all the cattle railings and security and a wall of photographers, how I got in without disturbing the trail of stars. There’s nothing on the venue (Odeon) or BFI Film Festival’s websites. To others wondering: we came in behind the photographers between celebrity arrivals – and we did have to walk on the red carpet, albeit a shorter stretch than the special guests, and enter the same foyer and auditorium as they did, and show tickets MANY times.

Now I have to tell you how gutted I am: for as much as I was pleased to hear from director Alan Rickman, the biggest star in his new film A Little Chaos was in the continent furthest from the screening, and appeared only by a brief video, giving her filming location and newest child as her reason. I have followed Kate Winslet’s 20 year career for most of it, and made a special sacrifice (eating only bananas due to low budget and using sickness inducing buses) to attend – only to learn she wasn’t coming. Last year, I talked myself out of the £20-30 ticket because I didn’t expect her – only to see her on the carpet in a matching dress in the next day’s news. So this year, I felt it reasonable to assume her presence at the first gala screening of the LFF and British premiere, only to be gutted on arrival.

What then does a film festival atmosphere give to a film, beyond a brief chance to hold up a camera phone to a celebrity who is mostly hidden behind a screen (as any non ticket holder can do at the cinema entrance), and then hear them talk for up to half and hour? Is the introduction and Q&A alone enough: the chance for anyone to hold up a hand and ask a public question, the chance to interact with and see someone famous you likely admire in the same room?

This auditorium – Odeon West End 2 – was sold out, recalling the last Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet film I saw at the cinema, which was also sold out and on its opening weekend – Sense and Sensibility in 1996. And there is a comparison of a typically English period drama, with romance and sadness, but lots of distinctly national humour that will likely delight anglophiles around the world as well as British viewers.

Like my recent experience at Cambridge Film Festival, there were public laughs, but these came at sometimes inappropriate times. At a previous CFF, the explicit and disturbing scenes in Dog Days got a regular laugh until someone yelled back – it’s not funny. I thought it was, said the chastised guffawer. We should have the right to laugh as we are tickled, but it’s also exposing to reveal your humour, and can spoil a moment for others.

There were moments in A Little Chaos that I felt the audience expected to find funny, like the regularity of jokes in a sit com, rather than remembering that films often elicit many emotions and that pathos or shock can be just as possible. The gasps of the sudden throat cutting in Hidden/Cache, the squeals and jumps in The Woman in Black and then the young men in front apologising – that alone was worth the ticket price – are part of what makes cinema special. But often silence or a gesture – I covered my mouth with my hand during the scenes that Kate Winslet’s character is most troubled in A Little Chaos – is as powerful as the vocal response of amusement, which can feel canned and cued.

Of course, the experience can be negative because of talking, rustling, the stink of beer or smelly food, the late coming or re-entry of other customers, the use of phones. In this mostly respectful audience, still a couple of people left the auditorium – in the presence of the press and the film’s maker – and the couple beside me not only gave an unnecessary feature length commentary but talked through the Q&A and didn’t clap the various cast and crew asked to stand. That to me was utterly rude, as you’re here to appreciate their work, and it’s etiquette and respectful.

So was my £20 worth it – plus the now illegal booking fee and an hour lurking round the carpet and my 7 hours on buses? Not quite, and mostly for a missing Winslet. Odeon West End is less large than its black towered sister across the square, and the auditorium itself, although with an 814 capacity, has no special architecture: the early 20th C picture palaces (of which London has several) or the BFI’s own 1960s screen one at Southbank have a sense of occasion that is not present in this fairly usual mainstream subdivided chain cinema. As for the film itself, reviews will appear nearer the film’s UK release date, which is early 2015. More on this and other venues at my sister blog

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