A Little Chaos

a_little_chaos_film_2015_versailles_garden_habituaOK, OK, the reviews are tepid, but for my taste, A Little Chaos (trailer) is a perfect light summertime romance. Impeccable acting (Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Stanley Tucci, and Alan Rickman), beautiful scenery, and gorgeous late 17th c. costumes. Settle into the comfy theater seats and the welcome theater air-conditioning, and let the film wash over you. No heavy mental or emotional lifting required.

The premise is that on a ridiculously short timetable and budget, France’s Louis XIV, the Sun King, has decreed that paradisaical gardens be created to expand the grounds at his Versailles palace. Garden design has been placed in the reliable hands of André Le Nôtre (Schoenaerts), a proponent of order in the landscape. His plans include an elaborate display of fountains. But he needs help. After interviewing numerous candidates, he chooses the wildly fictional Madame Sabine de Barra (Winslet) to create the garden’s ballroom, for the reason that she will introduce new ideas (a shaky premise, there)—and, as the title suggests, a little chaos.

The two of them are attracted to each other, but have vastly different temperaments and face a fairly predictable set of obstacles. Critics who pooh-pooh the film as a failed feminist fable miss its many pleasures: the absurd courtiers, Stanley Tucci as the king’s gay brother, the interplay among the women when they’re alone behind closed doors, scenery to drool over, the joy of bringing dirt and greenery to beautiful life, and, especially, Alan Rickman playing Louis XIV—“a character worthy of his imperious, reptilian charisma,” as Stephen Holden said in the New York Times.

Rickman directed and helped write the film, too. “Acting should be about risky projects as much as it can be about entertaining,” he told Joe Neumaier at the New York Daily News. “The risk is what makes you want to do it.” Bringing to life characters from another culture and long-past century in a revisionist history confection is almost as risky as thinking you can make water dance.

The real Salle de Bal (the Bosquet des Rocailles) at Versailles was inaugurated in 1685 and is the gardens’ only surviving cascade. PHOTO

If you don’t go with inflated expectations you won’t be disappointed. You will be well pleased. Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 39%; audience score 49%.