Madame Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is an unlikely candidate for the landscape architect of the still-to-be-completed palace of Versailles. She has little time for the classical ordered designs of the man who hires her; the famous architect Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts). However, as she works on her creation, she finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Le Notre and forced to negotiate the perilous rivalries and intricate etiquette of the court of King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman). But Sabine is made of strong stuff; her honesty and compassionate nature help to overcome both the challenges of her newfound popularity, and an unspeakable tragedy from her past, to win the favour of the Sun King and the heart of Le Notre.
'A Little Chaos' opens with a humorous title card that jabs at the movie's allergy to adhering to historical accuracy. It states: "There is an outdoor ballroom in the gardens of Versailles. In what follows, that much at least is true." If only the movie had kept the inherent humor found in that statement, perhaps we'd be discussing a much different, much better movie.
As it is, Alan Rickman's (yes, that Alan Rickman) sophomore directorial effort fails to achieve anything it sets out to do. The film begins in 1682, right as the Garden of Versailles is under construction. King Louis XIV (Rickman) is intent on bending nature to his whim. He's enlisted the help of Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenarts) to help him find capable builders.
Enter Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet). A self-made landscape engineer, Sabine finds herself dealing with being a professional woman in 17th Century France. Well, that actually might be an interesting story. However, the movie completely undercuts whatever feminist comment it might have had, with the mere fact that Sabine is never all that oppressed in the first place.
What a strange anachronistic way to portray a story that wants to highlight the struggles of a woman in a male-dominated culture, when the entire culture on screen feels more like a postmodern one.
On one hand the movie would want us to think that poor Sabine, who ends up getting the contract to build the ballroom – presumably because Andre likes the cut of her jib – is oppressed by the society she lives in. There is one scene in the movie, where it gives you a kinda-sorta hint that things might not be all that great for Sabine in her chosen profession. That comes during the interview process when a couple of stuff wig-wearing gentlemen who have also interviewed for the same job act slightly annoyed that a woman is interviewing. And that's it. Seriously.
Neither the film, nor the story behind it, purport to be truthful. The opening title card said as much. So, what's the point? If Sabine simply saunters through life, creating her Versailles masterpiece while easily navigating the male-dominated world of French landscape architecture, one must as where's the conflict? Oh, that's right. Sabine's only enemy, who challenges her for a brief time is another woman. That's not to mention that the movie severely undermines itself even more when it insists on concocting a chemistry-free romance between her and Andre.
Without a comment on feminism, or a strong-willed woman plowing her way through a patriarchy all we're left with is Kate Winslet slogging around in the mud, wiping sweat from her brow, as all the men watch. Even the king, who seems rather displeased with everyone, takes a shine to Sabine and strolls around with her talking about flowers and such. It'd be morbidly intriguing if it wasn't so god-awful boring.
Honestly, there's not one single point to be made here. The movie undercuts itself at every turn. It's not that they willfully ignore the history, it's that they blatantly don't care if they're telling a story worth telling. What's there to be interested in? Even with all the landscape planning and building montages set to exciting music the fact remains, we're still watching a movie about landscaping. Nothing else. Just let that sink in.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'A Little Chaos' comes to Blu-ray in a single-disc set. The disc is 50GB, and there's a code included for an UltraViolet Digital Copy.
For how insipidly silly the movie ultimately is, at least 'A Little Chaos's 1080p presentation looks good. It's a lushly detailed representation of 17th Century France. The country side looks wonderfully rich. Detail is beautifully rendered. Colors stand out exquisitely.
Facial detail is top notch. Winslet is more, or less, covered with dirt the entire movie. Even the tiniest bits of dirt and mud stuck to her face are visible. Fabric textures are almost tangible. Individual grass blades easily sway in the breeze. Each leaf on the variety of trees is distinct. Never do the endless shades of green meld into one another. They're all separate and visually discernable.
Darker scenes harbor some fine shadows. There are a few though that are also home to some rather noticeable banding, which brings the score down somewhat. If the banding wasn't there the presentation would be bordering on greatness given the lush visuals it has to work with.
With a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, 'A Little Chaos' features a well-rounded soundscape that doesn't just provided clear and concise dialogue. There's a whole lot more to it.
Very noticeable are the intricate array of ambient sound. Crickets to birds to wind rustling through the trees, all these sounds are captured and reproduced expertly in the surround channels. As the characters stroll along the countryside it gives you a like-you're-there feeling. There's a rainstorm featured prominently in the movie, which cascades through the soundfield filling each channel with driving rain. It's one of the best audio moments of the movie.
I was quite impressed with 'A Little Chaos's audio presentation. At least it has that going for it.
There are no special feautres provided.
'A Little Chaos' could've used just a tad more chaos. It's so mundane and devoid of drama, emotion, or motivation that it'll be difficult to stay awake. If the movie wants to make a comment on early feminism it fails, because Sabine's path isn't fraught with any complications that threaten to thwart her plan. All the men are congenial. It's actually quite easy for Sabine to get where she wants to be. Imagine a Batman movie where Batman doesn't actually fight any crime. Yeah well, at least the sound and visuals are good, eh?