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A Little Chaos

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A Little Chaos is an acutely observed and exquisitely judged costume drama, that takes time and care to create the extravagance of France in 1682 while also critiquing the absurdities of its rigid class structure. Co-writer and director Alan Rickman also plays the supporting role as King Louis XIV, while the central performance comes from Kate Winslet as Sabine De Barra, a landscape gardener selected by André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) to contribute a little chaos to the construction of the new gardens at Versailles. Winslet is on typically fine form, conveying Sabine’s resolve as well as her evident suffering. Careful use of flashbacks hint at Sabine’s past, the audience learning more as André does. André has his own problems, both with his loveless marriage and with the absurd prospect of creating the gardens in the first place. Yet while the film highlights this absurdity and the general nonsense of the French court’s conventions, it never feels mean-spirited or cruel. The tone is more affectionate than acerbic, allowing the viewer to feel a part of the world on screen rather than taking a cynical distance. The film’s triumph is its placement, using the development of the gardens at Versailles as a backdrop for dramas both personal and political. While a costume drama about landscape gardening in 17th century France may not sound like the most dramatic material, the film is both charming and engaging, and in places quite moving. At times ornate, at others (literally) rough and muddy, this is a garden well worth strolling through.

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