Sundance 2012 - The Queen of Versailles

Every year N and I try and make it to a few films at the Sundance Film Festival. It's pretty affordable and easy to do thanks to locals' tickets and there being several festival venues in Salt Lake City.

On Saturday we saw two movies, one of which was The Queen of Versailles.

The Queen of Versailles is a documentary that follows billionaires David and Jackie (his 30-years younger wife) Siegel as they set out to build their dream house, a 90,000 square-foot replica of Versailles complete with ice-skating rink and grand ballroom. It will be the largest home in America.

However, once the 2008 economic crisis hits, the time-share empire that Jackie and David's wealth is based on starts crumbling and then falls fast and hard. Their opulent lifestyle is thrown into chaos.

Lauren Greenfield's deft touch is evident throughout the whole film. Greenfield walks the fine line of mining the absurdity of the Siegels' life for laughs while still humanizing her subjects so when their fall comes you still see them as family thrown into crisis and not merely symbols of the 1%.

If there is any flaw in the movie it is that Greenfield does not hold David and Jackie as accountable for their own downfall as she could have. The Siegels, billionaires at the beginning of the film, are by the end talking about how their kids will have to get loans if they want to go to college.

On camera they talk about how their bad fortune is the fault of conniving bankers. Greenfield lets them expose their delusions with their own words rather than confronting them with it which is a valid choice but it does mean at times you just want to grab Jackie and shake her by the shoulders.

The film has the arc of a classic Greek tragedy and is epic in scope but unfolds its story by capturing the most telling details--the painted fantasy portraits of David and Jackie as warrior and princess, the dead fish floating in the scummy tank, the piles of dog crap on the expensive carpets.

As I was watching the film I kept exclaiming to myself, "I can't believe they got this footage!" The access the documentary crew had is astounding and speaks to Greenfield's talent of connecting with her subjects.

The Queen of Versailles is funny and charming and thought-provoking. I heard it got purchased so it will be hitting theaters in a year or so. If you get the chance it's definitely worth watching.

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