March 9, 2009
The woods surrounding the Palace of Versailles serves as a real-life metaphor for the stark disparity between wealth and poverty, privilege and exclusion in Pierre Schöller's sobering and unsentimental tale of two cities, Versailles. At the heart of Schöller's social interrogation is the plight of a young homeless boy, Enzo (Max Baissette de Malglaive) who, as the film begins, is wandering through back streets and dark alleys with his mother Nina (Judith Chemla) in a seemingly familiar routine of searching for suitable places to pass the night. Approached one evening by patrolling social workers with an offer of a warm place to sleep, Nina and Enzo are soon scuttled to Versailles under the pretext of filling out requisite forms to help them obtain public assistance: a process that will invariably send the mother away for vocational training as part of the prescribed workforce re-introduction program, while the child is processed into the foster care system. Refusing to provide their real names for fear of being separated by the state, the two instead cross into the woods in an attempt to reach the train station, and stumbles into the makeshift home of Damien (Guillaume Depardieu). Finding a kindred spirit and unlikely protector for her son in the brooding recovering addict and ex-convict, Nina, leaves Enzo in Damien's care and, armed with a newspaper article on unemployment featuring business woman and social activist, Mme. Herchel (Brigitte Sy), forges to find her way back into "productive society". Schöller incisively illustrates the parallel, surrogate relationships formed among the marginalized - the poor, homeless, and elderly - that redefine the notion of family and community. By chronicling elliptical, transitory moments in the lives of people living under the shadows of a gleaming Versailles, Schöller not only reflects the transient nature of their threadbare existence, but also confronts the eroded revolutionary ideals of an inclusive, egalitarian society that these unregistered, shadow communities represent.