The Queen Of Versailles (2012)
Hinged on the economic crisis of 2008, Lauren Greenfield’s cautious, measured The Queen of Versailles (2012) charts the riches-to-proverbial-rags trajectory of David A. Siegel, American real estate magnate, and his family as they plummet from being revoltingly rich to being nearly have-beens who are forced to relinquish the largest American home ever built. Greenfield’s film is full of improvisational metaphors, bitter little ironies and strokes of poetic justice, such as how the many employees whom Siegel laid off – not the big banks which refused to fund him – end up helping his family through thrift shopping. The most interesting aspect of the film, however, is how it throws light on how the familial fabric of the Siegel family, which no doubt is used to typify middle and upper American households, is dictated by factors outside their control and much larger than them, such as the global economic downturn – a direct demonstration of family being superstructural organization shaped by an economic base. These passages of the film play out like Metamorphosis as we witness the bourgeois family structure falling apart when the financial adhesive that held it together vanishes. Like Kafka’s novella, these scenes evoke a mix of revulsion and pathos: the repulsion one feels watching how thoroughly these relationships are founded on a bed of material transactions is counterbalanced by a pity for the children who seem to be oblivious to how tainted by excess wealth they are. If there is a lingering feeling, despite the film’s efforts to remain nonjudgmental and neutral about the events that transpire, that we feel pity for a group of people who are going from being extremely rich to merely rich, it is because the film rightly preserves the basic humanity of the Siegel family.