A lot of formality

This is my review of A Little Chaos [DVD] [2014] [2015].

This period drama romance develops a fictitious episode in the life of André le Nôtre, famous landscape gardener employed by the capricious "Sun King", Louis X1V. Le Nôtre (played by Matthias Schoenaerts, at the time of writing a favourite choice for the role of handsome heartthrob) hires Sabine De Barra to add a little artistic chaos to his own formal style, which he senses is not quite enough to guarantee the king's approval for the designs of the gardens at Versailles. Since De Barra's rock garden with fountains ends up looking pretty formal to our eyes, the "chaos" seems to apply mostly to the characters' personal lives.

The course of events is predictable in this film which also seems too long in view of the essential thinness of the plot: 90 minutes might have been better than 117. Apart from the visual beauty of the scenes, the main interest lies in the portrayal of court life, an artificial bubble of luxurious excess, in which the courtiers at times literally dancing attendance on the king seem like pampered children in ludicrously ornate fancy dress, trapped in their privilege since they are free neither to leave the court, nor to express their true emotions, although overt flirtation seems permitted. The main point of suspense is over how De Barra became a widow and lost the young daughter, over whose memory she is obsessed.

I agree with the "professional" reviewers that although Kate Winslet plays De Barra with emotional honesty, the talents of a strong cast of actors are not shown to full effect by the script, pacing and plot. The Hollywood Reporter sums it up well for me by: "This decently acted film is agreeable entertainment, even if it works better on a scene by scene basis than in terms of overall flow."

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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