If you are expecting this to be a film about gardens and gardening then I am here to tell you that is not the case. Yes, it is about two landscape artists who work on the gardens at Versailles together, but that is just the backdrop that advances the plot. It really is a film about class distinctions, love, tragedy, mourning, forgiveness, gender inequality, finding happiness, and sadness.
In Paris 1682 Louis XIV (Alan Rickman – Sense & Sensibility, Die Hard) decides to move the royal palace outside of the city to Versailles. Not only does the chateau there have to be renovated and upgraded into a castle, but the King decides he wants magnificent gardens on the property showing off the very best in French garden design. It is a big job and is assigned to André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts – Rust and Bone, Far From the Maddening Crowd).
Le Nôtre wisely realizes that he cannot do it all on his own, so he invites some of France’s best garden designers to apply for the position. All the usual suspects show up with one very unusual one – a woman named Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet – Titanic, The Reader). The widow is first a woman, second not really known and third not your typical gardener. Despite the fact that her design is wild and the interview does not seem to go well, Le Nôtre selects Madame de Barra to on her own design and build a tiered water featured garden that will function as an outdoor music venue.
This film only enjoyed limited distribution. I can understand why. Not because of the quality of the film because it is rather watchable. The problem is in today’s world of increasing obsession with big budget films with plenty of action or superheroes, a little film like A Little Chaos gets lost. Alan Rickman’s film is a typical British period piece in that it is slow moving. With our non-existent patience it is almost as if we cannot sit through a film that does not move at warp speed and involve a lot of special effects. For me this is a true fan of film’s kind of film. Strong acting, steady directing, fun dialogue, and wonderful sets and costumes. Don’t let the lack of buzz surrounding the film decide for you not to see it as that would be a grave mistake.
We see through Rickman’s film (he co-wrote, directs and acts in it) the way the upper class in France at that time (and probably others) was insulated from the lower classes. How they how no idea how the poor were suffering and just continued on their merry way. At some points this period piece is very much like those people and rather separated from reality. It is at times unrealistic and exaggerated. Thankfully when those moments are happening we still have the great acting of Rickman and Winslet to come in and set things right.