Films about 17th century landscape gardening do not usually capture my attention. For one, the number of films in this very particular category probably is not substantial enough to even be able to compete for it at all, and for another, quite frankly just talking about it seems like it would probably be enough to cure insomnia once and for all, but something got Alan Rickman interested. Rickman was interested enough to take up both the post of director, something he hasn’t done for a feature film since 1997’s ‘The Winter Guest’, and a supporting role as King Louis XIV, the man who orders all the hardcore gardening to take place. Rickman’s enthusiasm definitely seems strange, but the acting power of the film carries it through, and enables it to be an engaging tale that manages to avoid the tedium that seemed ready to envelop it with open arms.
The film is certainly handsomely mounted, Rickman taking every care to ensure that the film looks as glamorous as the clothing that adorns all the characters, each shot imbued with that otherworldly, sparkling tinge that gives the film its regal aesthetic. Rickman’s style is deliberate and never too pushy, giving the actors time to bring the lines to life without trying to increase the pace of the film with a variety of fast cuts. This is a good thing, since to try to push this story to become something it’s not is definitely a mistake, this kind of story relies on the power brought to it both by the script and the acting, not through any sort of directorial wizardry that seeks to give it an extra dimension which could make it too much and unbalance it.
As it is, ‘A Little Chaos’ is a carefully balanced film, and it does a good job of making you interested in the characters, if not the gardening itself. Matthias Schoenarts, who has made it his personal pledge to be in almost every film this year, is continuously proving himself to be a solid actor, all chiselled-jaw and straight faced as usual, his acting style always giving his characters that enigmatic edge of a man who is more than he lets on, and he works together with Winslet, who is right in her comfort zone and thus effortlessly moves through the film. The best turn is by Stanley Tucci, whose small appearance gets almost all the laughs as he adds a strong comic edge, though Rickman himself also makes a great Louis XIV, intimidating but vulnerable at the same time, with an added humanity that Rickman specialises at. In the end, Rickman’s effort is a sturdy film, reliable and able to make a story that could have been incredibly tedious interesting, but ultimately it’s not substantial enough to be anything more than interesting enough to be diverting for a couple of hours since it lacks that extra something that would make it in some way remarkable.
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