Thursday, May 17, 2012

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.08 (Closing Night, Wednesday 2 May 2012): The Queen of Versailles

And the last night, as usual, comes at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, in the big room. We all know what that means - duck!

IMAG0097, Look out, the IFFBoston staff has prizes!
The IFFBoston staff has prizes for you - look out!

Apparently, the festival staff did not get rid of all of the previous year's t-shirts a week earlier at opening night. They also had plenty of chips from Utz and fruit bar things from another sponsor that they were determined were not going to sit around in their pantries. A surprising number of them found their way to the older lady sitting next to me, and I won't say that I wouldn't have preferred she snack on those rather than the gigantic, smelly pickle she did pull out.

IMAG0096, The IFFBoston staff at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

After that, the award winners were announced - find them here - and seeing as I didn't see many of them, I've got little to say about that, other than that Fairhaven may have benefited from a large contingent of locals voting in the audience award. Awards at film festivals are an odd thing, even compared to the end-of-year variety; when you see the laurel-leaves on posters or packages, you've really got no idea what the competition is or who the voters are. It's weirdly without context, but the potential is apparently tempting. Still, based on what I did see, some of these must have been pretty good to edge them out, so congratulations.

IMAG0098, "The Queen of Versailles" director Lauren Greenfield at the Coolidge Corner Theatre for IFFBoston's closing night

This is, I think, the second time I've seen Lauren Greenfield at IFFBoston; she was here six years ago with another documentary, Thin, which I quite liked, and she's had a documentary short here at some point in between. She answered a few questions about the subjects, with a great deal of the interest being related to one of Jackie's friends back in her home town and her comment to Greenfield (alluded to in the view) that the director perhaps knew her husband's mind better than she did at that point. Greenfield talked about finding a somewhat unexpected love story in the movie, which wasn't exactly what she expected. For the most part, though, the film spoke for itself.

And so, the festival ended, the folks in those top two bits of Horrible Photography had a good night's sleep, and got started planning the 2013 festival the next day. For my part, it's time to start focusing on Fantasia Festival -- anybody want to split a room in Montreal this July/August?

The Queen of Versailles

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

Times are tough for everybody, although "tough" can be a relative concept. The further you get from the bottom, not only does it get further from what many would consider really difficult, but harder to sympathize, at least in the abstract. The Queen of Versailles aims to make the abstract specific, and if not sympathetic, at least interesting.

Jackie and David Siegel can be seen as the epitome of conspicuous, wasteful consumption. As the film opens, Jackie is 43 and David is 72, with seven kids of their own and one niece of Jackie's that has come to live with them. David is a billionaire, having built a time-share empire from the ground up, and while they currently live in a twenty-six thousand square foot home, they are building a much larger Versailles-style mansion - at ninety thousand square feet, it would be the largest single-family home ever built in America. At least, they are until the financial crisis, when people stop spending on things like timeshares just as David is trying to open a massive new property in Las Vegas.

The Siegels live large as the movie begins, arguably grotesquely so. The parties with every entry in the current Miss America pageant are kind of amusingly grandiose at times, sure, but it's the ingrained excess in other places that may make the audience uneasy. It's not enough to have one badly-trained, yappy little dog, for instance; Jackie has many and has had many more. A comment she makes about nannies making it easier to have kids kicks that feeling up to the next level. The palace that they intend to build is the most obvious example, but in some ways, as much as it's gaudy, it's just building a nice house with all the amenities they can afford; it's amplified, but not different, compared to a random audience member's desires and experiences.

Full review at EFC.

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