“A Little Chaos,” about a landscape artist who finds romance at Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, isn’t a bad film. But it’s slow.
Kate Winslet (interesting, as always) plays Sabine De Barra, a talented gardener who obtains a job at the palace from handsome horticulturalist Andre le Notreto (Matthias Schoenaerts), despite his initial misgivings about the lack of order in her blueprints.
Sabine is a widow with a dark secret, and Andre is in a loveless and very open marriage. We get ready for the sparks to fly, but the scenes between Winslet and Schoenaerts fall flat. In fact, we pay more attention to the beautiful costumes and art direction than to any exchange between the two romantic leads. Some of this can be attributed to the lack of chemistry between the actors, but much of the problem lies in the script, which throws together two withdrawn characters who are a boring mix.
Every now and again, the proceedings liven up, particularly when Alan Rickman (also the director) shows up as Louis XIV. In an inspired scene, Sabine mistakes the wig-less Louis for the garden help, and the incognito king happily engages in a chat about flowers. It doesn’t necessarily come off as a 17th century conversation, but it provides the film a much-needed jolt. Likewise, the film makes a strong impression when Sabine has a sit-down with some of the women of the palace, many of whom have faced difficult setbacks of their own.
When we arrive at such moments, we keep hoping that the film will loosen up a bit and gain momentum. It does kick in with some energy during the last scene, when Sabine unveils the new garden, but it’s too bad the journey to get there seemed so orderly.