It turns out my plan to move to Los Angeles and conquer the film festival world was meant to be just a visit. I’m now back in my Florida hometown, repacking for a contract job with Sundance. If that weren’t reason enough to be excited, the only art house theater in town is currently playing a serious lineup of hits from this year’s festival. This week they were showing QUEEN OF VERSAILLES by director Lauren Greenfield. The documentary won Best Director in the documentary category. I didn’t get a chance to see it then, but boy do I remember it was all folks could talk about.
It’s the true story of a wealthy Florida couple who try to build the world’s largest home when the financial crisis hits them extremely hard. Now in January I had my eyes on the prize and going to see a movie about rich White people becoming less rich didn’t fit in with my supporting stories by and about people of color. However, in the midst of the current election, I figured this would be the closest I’d get to seeing how the other half lives.
I already knew from the fest program synopsis that the Siegels’ were going to lose a lot of dough , so else what could the doc expose, right?
QUEEN OF VERSAILLES is another example of why I’m fascinated by the field of documentary. The film went beyond the headlines to present an in-depth portrait told primary by the subjects themselves. I think it’s an important cautionary (but not preachy) tale that should be viewed by all, regardless of income bracket. Greenfield followed the family for two years, which explains the intimacy you as a viewer feel watching some scenes. At one point as her finances dwindle and marriage grows rocky, the vibrant matriarch Jackie Siegel sighs, “I guess I’ll have to watch the movie to find out what’s going on in my life.”
I found it comparable to a documentary I watched in school called LALEE’S KIN by David and Albert Maysles (GREY GARDENS). While the billionaire Siegels in VERSAILLES differ from the impoverished matriarch Lalee of LALEE’S KIN in almost every possible way, if I looked hard enough I could find similarities based on the filmmaker’s tact with the subjects. Towards the end of the film, David Siegel summarizes the whole series of events as a “reverse rags to riches”. I left the theater still thinking about his direct address to the camera.
Do I pity them? Is their situation to be blamed on economics, society or themselves? What is it that I’m supposed to take away from their story? Perhaps it’s just important that someone let the Siegels tell it for themselves.