Although these kind of gender specific labels are now truly out-dated, A Little Chaos can be called a women's film, but not just because it tells of a gently unfolding romance. Moreso, because this is a movie that characterizes a woman as independent and strong, in an era when women are most usually portrayed as reliant, at least materialistically. And there are other surprises...
Although set in the Palace of Versailles, don't expect the venom of Dangerous Liaisons. In fact, don't have any aristocratic expectations at all. It's the time of Louis XIV, and a female landscape-gardener Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is awarded the esteemed assignment to construct a grand amphitheatre within the gardens. Sabine is forced to work to support herself. She's spirited and unconventional, but honest. And young, and widowed.
The opening scenes give us a taste for the long holds on canny close-ups that will speckle the film. At times they lend a magical whimsy, at others an intensity. The cinematography is what you'd want from a film about a palace and grand gardens. Against the close-ups, there are long sweeping shots and long edits.
There's a strong cast with superb performances by (second time) director Alan Rickman (as Louis XIV) and Stanley Tucci (with his cheeky wink, and impeccable timing) capably aided by Matthias Schoenaerts and Helen McCrory. As Sabine however, Kate Winslet seems a little unsure of herself, which is of course how the landscape-gardener would feel when she first encounters the inner sanctums of court. It's more than that though, which sends us this message of uncertainty, it's as if Winslet is unsure of how to play the role. At times she seems a little stilted, her acting is well just that, acting - and a little contrived. We don't loose ourselves in Sabine as a believable character.
All in all, A Little Chaos is a film worth watching while it's on at the cinema. For starters, there's the grand gilt of the Palace of Versailles to see. Then there are the gorgeous gardens scenes, lush in all their glory. There are also many moments that tickle, so many that A Little Chaos although promoted as an historical drama, should nearly be re-framed as a thinking person's comedy. A Little Chaos is dry and intelligent and embracing, and will touch your heart. But it won't be what you expect.
A Little Chaos opens in Australian cinemas on March 26th.