At the beginning of “A Little Chaos,” Alan Rickman’s second directorial feature, there is a warning: “There is an outdoor ballroom in the gardens of Versailles. In what follows, at least that much is true.”
In an era in which the phrase “based on a true story” is used like a lifeline, this promise is refreshing, to say the least. And, besides, the plot of this 17th-century story is almost too progressively good to be true. Written by Alison Deegan, the film tells the story of the woman who is (supposedly) hired to design said ballroom—Madame Sabine De Barra.
Madame De Barra (Kate Winslet) took to landscaping after her husband died, necessitating that she support herself. The problem is, while most Enlightenment artists base their work on reason and order, she is inspired by chaos. So, when King Louis XIV (Rickman) issues a project for the Garden of Versailles under the eye of landscaper André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), she applies for a job expecting to be turned down. But Monsieur Le Notre witnesses Madame De Barra moving a pot in his garden before the interview, revealing her nonconformity and stirring Le Notre to choose her for the project.
The job does not come without struggles, including the problem of being a woman in a “man’s job” and the jealous eye of Monsieur Le Notre’s wife (Helen McCrory) as romance flares between the two landscapers. And all the while, Madame De Barra’s thoughts are tormented by the mysterious image of a little girl.
As form follows function, the structure of “A Little Chaos” is—well—chaotic. The humor is not evenly spread throughout the film, though it is deftly added where needed. And though Madame De Barra’s past is a prominent feature in the story, the revealing moment feels a bit belabored. But, overall, the film is engaging and deals with the gray areas that period pieces often glaze over (i.e. affairs). It seems that the central point of the film is that sometimes chaos is order.
Winslet and Schoenaerts are a delight together, and Rickman owns his role as the king. There are even a few fabulous, though short, moments with Stanley Tucci as the king’s brother, Philippe d’Orleans. It’s a smart little period piece that you should be sure to catch—hopefully it won’t be another 18 years before Alan Rickman directs again. “A Little Chaos” will be playing soon at the Midtown Cinema.
Midnight Matinee Series
Saturday, July 11, 11:45pm
Classic Film Series
“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955)
Sunday, July 12, 6pm
3rd in the Burg $3 Movie
“Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (1997)
Friday, July 17, 9:30ish
Faulkner Honda Family Film Series
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001)
Saturday, July 18, noon
Sunday, July 19, 2pm
“The Punk Syndrome”
Sunday, July 26, 7pm
LGBT Film Festival
July 26 to July 28
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Outdoor Film Series
Down in Front!
“Plan 9 From Outer Space”
“The Princess Bride”
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
All outdoor movies start at dusk in the parking lot of Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St., Harrisburg.