Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Girl King: The Queen Who Read Descartes
Garbo’s Queen Christina only dropped the merest hints of lesbianism, Mika
Kaurismaki embraces all the speculation regarding her sexuality. However, he
also devotes plenty of time to her growing attraction and ultimate conversion
to Catholicism. It might sound highly contradictory in our day and age, but it
was made possible by the unyieldingly strict Lutheranism the Swedish court
adhered to. The Swedish Queen Kristina will love and lose in Finnish director
Kaurismaki’s English language The Girl
which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.
her early years spent with an unstable mother, Queen Kristina was raised to
rule Sweden by Count Axel Oxenstierna, the High Chancellor. He mostly
encourages her passion for books and philosophy, but insists she observe Sweden’s
official Lutheran religion. However, the Queen’s enthusiasm for Descartes
provides an opening for her Catholic suitors. France’s Ambassador Pierre Hector
Chanut is the perfect man for the job. Despite his faith, he is welcomed at court,
because of Sweden’s alliance with France against Germany. He also happens to be
a close personal friend of Descartes.
Oxenstiernia, Queen Kristina’s intellectual curiosity is not exactly ideal, but
her refusal to marry is a more vexing problem. The throne needs its heir. Her reckless
affection for Countess Ebba Sparre, her favorite lady-in-waiting, is also potentially
destabilizing. When the nobles conspire to bring Sparre in line, it makes Rome
look pretty inviting.
costume dramas go, Girl King isn’t
bad, especially if you enjoy watching Catholic troublemakers conspiring against
dour Lutherans. It is the sort of film that boasts its best work in supporting
roles, particularly Michael Nyqvist (from John
Wick and the original Lisbeth Salander films) as profoundly dutiful
Oxenstiernia. Hippolyte Girardot is also wonderful cunning and charming as the
French ambassador. Unfortunately, Sarah Gadon’s Sparre comes across like an
empty-headed Lolita mired in a state of arrested development. Malin Buska is
considerably more forceful as Queen Kristina, but she’s still no Garbo—or Liv
Ullman (the stakes are high when you play this Queen).
Queen Kristina’s story is certainly intriguing,
especially when we layer on our own contemporary ironies. However, the
neither-fish-nor-fowl execution lands it in a no man’s land between heady
theological-geopolitical intrigue and sexually driven melodrama. For cineastes,
its impressively severe mise-en-scene is worth seeing just to compare and
contrast with Queen Christina and The Abdication (starring Ullman). It is
okay, but viewers should easily be able to wait the mere handful of days until
Wolfe releases it on video. Regardless, The
Girl King opens this Friday (12/4) at the Laemmle Royal in LA.
Labels: Scandinavian Cinema