The Queen of Versailles: A Film For the 99%
By: Elise Hugus, July 26, 2012
LAUREN GREENFIELD/MAGNOLIA PICTURES - Jackie Siegal keeps her household in balance in 'The Queen of Versailles.'
Lauren Greenfield's The Queen of Versailles may very well be the best documentary to date about the ”great recession.” It doesn’t address Wall Street, unemployment, or the sub-prime mortgage crisis. It skirts the pitfalls of degulating the banking industry.
Instead, it goes straight to the core of the economic divide that gave rise to the Occupy movement, the seemingly boundless greed that is the nation’s hubris.
Following Jackie Siegal, a former IBM engineer, Miss Florida beauty queen and model, the film gives us an unprecedented look into the lives of billionaires as they set out to build the largest home in the United States. Modeled on the palace of Louis XIV, “Versailles” is the epitome of opulence, boasting 90,000 square feet for Mr. and Mrs. Siegal, their eight children, housekeepers and pets.
If you go...
The Queen of Versailles screens at the Woods Hole Film Festival on Sunday, July 29 at 9 PM
WHFF 2012 Filmmaker in Residence Lauren Greenfield will be in attendance.
David Siegal made his fortune in the timeshare industry, which entices middle-class vacationers into leasing a piece of the American Dream. But an empire built on illusions is bound to fall, and it comes crashing down with the rest of the real estate bubble in 2008.
The still-unfinished Versailles becomes a liability, a repugnant symbol of luxury. But Jackie finds it hard to adjust to her new “poverty.” In a telling scene, she flies economy class on a commercial airline while visiting her middle-class hometown in Michigan for the first time in years. When she goes to rent a car, she inquires if there is a driver.
Yet, the Siegals are not the only ones that must scale back: a mostly immigrant household staff is forced to work longer hours with fewer hands. The rest of Florida, it seems, is in a state of foreclosure. Organizing her unwanted items in a warehouse sale for “the poor,” Jackie struggles to hold the family together, while her children eye her efforts with suspicion and her husband rebuffs her advances.
It would have been easy to make a demeaning film about the Siegals and their billionaire ilk—and of course, there are several moments that give fodder to the arguments of the 99 percent. But under Greenfield's compassionate eye, The Queen of Versailles becomes a portrait of the American Dream gone wrong, a sobering examination of the consumerist culture we are all part of.