Monday, 12 October 2015


“My feminism is humanism, with the weakest being those who I represent, and that includes many beings and life forms, including some men.” - Sandra Cisneros

Docufiction is the cinematographic combination of documentary and fiction. It is a film genre which attempts to capture reality such as it is (as direct cinema or cinéma vérité) and which simultaneously introduces unreal elements or fictional situations in narrative in order to strengthen the representation of reality using some kind of artistic expression. More precisely, it is a documentary contaminated with fictional elements, in real time, filmed when the events take place, and in which someone (the character) plays his own role in real life.

A docudrama is a genre of radio and television programming, feature film, and staged theatre, which features dramatised re-enactments of actual events. On stage, it is sometimes known as documentary theatre. In the core elements of its story a docudrama strives to adhere to known historical facts, while allowing a greater or lesser degree of dramatic license in peripheral details, and where there are gaps in the historical record. Dialogue may include the actual words of real-life persons, as recorded in historical documents. Docudrama producers sometimes choose to film their reconstructed events in the actual locations in which the historical events occurred.

A docudrama, in which historical fidelity is the keynote, is generally distinguished from a film merely “based on true events”, a term which implies a greater degree of dramatic license; and from the concept of “historical drama”, a broader category which may also encompass largely fictionalised action taking place in historical settings or against the backdrop of historical events. As a neologism, the term docudrama is sometimes confused with docufiction. However, unlike docufiction (which is essentially a documentary filmed in real time, incorporating some fictional elements) docudrama is filmed at a time subsequent to the events it portrays.

Hybrid genres such as these raise ethical questions regarding truth, since reality may be manipulated and confused with fiction, or the converse, which may be also quite pernicious: Fiction being regarded as the historical truth.

We watched the 2014 Alan Rickman movie “A Little Chaos” starring  Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci and Steve Waddington. The scenario credits go to Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan and Alan Rickman, and there is a disclaimer at the very beginning of the movie warning viewers that some of the events are based on historical fact… The problem is that most of the film is fiction, including the historically non-existent female lead and most of the film’s basic premise.

The plot revolves around the King of France Louis XIV (who really existed) and who built an impressive palace in the Paris suburb of Versailles and surrounded it with spectacular gardens which included an outdoor ballroom (all true). Kate Winslet plays a fictional woman gardener named Sabine De Barra, who the movie shows receiving a commission to design and build the outdoor ballroom portion of the gardens at Versailles. She is working for a male landscape artist named André Le Nôtre (the actual historical royal landscaper), played by Matthias Schoenaerts.

My first issue was with the ages of Louis XIV (5 September 1638 – 1 September 1715) and André Le Nôtre (12 March 1613 – 15 September 1700), the King being 25 years younger than Le Nôtre. In the film this age difference is reversed, Le Nôtre being younger. The fictional Madame De Barra is the other major historical no-no, and her existence is central to the film’s plot and its mildly feminist premise. A whole range of other historical inconsistencies and historical solecisms, if you like, pepper the film. But even if we ignore all of this, the plot is thin and the film too long, the empty, pointless silences too many. More film should have been left on the cutting room floor.

The sets, costumes and props were largely acceptable and the music suitably non-descript, but lacking period authenticity (to match the holes in the plot). The acting I was not overly impressed with, Winslet being too earnest while trying to make the most of her lines, while Schoenaerts looked for the most part non-plussed and uncomfortable. Rickman was rather full of himself at times but I guess one should forgive him that as he was playing Louis XIV…

I would not go out of my way to see this film, but it was pleasant enough as "filmzak" (I did end up doing something else halfway through it while watching the remainder of the film). Watch it at your discretion and perhaps you will enjoy it more knowing it’s all balderdash and only amusing as a romantic comedy of a mildly feministic kind where the woman is the heroine and the men around her range from the completely incompetent to the supercilious but mindless male chauvinist pig.

No comments:

Post a Comment