An exercise in voyeurism or schadenfreude?
DIRECTED BY Lauren Greenfield (USA, Special Presentations)
Wednesday, May 2, 7 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 (350 King Street West)
Thursday, May 3, 9:15 p.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West)
Friday, May, 4 8:45 p.m.
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
After its much-awaited Sundance premiere, The Queen of Versailles comes to Toronto. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, this film has a premise that may remind you at first of the Real Housewives franchise, but the onset of the 2008 financial crisis makes this exploration of upper-class America far more pertinent, and pointed.
The documentary follows the Siegels, a family that has built its fortune selling timeshares to “greedy” marks, while expanding its business with the fast and loose credit of the early ’00s. The family is building the palace that will become the crown jewel of its empire: the biggest single family house in the United States. This 90,000 square foot behemoth is inspired, in true American fashion, by the aristocratic grandeur of the palace of Versailles, and the gaudy ostentation of the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas.
With the onset of banking crisis and the resulting real estate collapse, however, the Siegels’ lives change drastically; the film, correspondingly, descends into a combination of farce and tragedy.
The Queen of Versailles has many absurd moments, but it does provide an honest portrait, and illustrates the massive distance—financial and otherwise—between the wealthy and everyone else. It’s a revealing exploration of the illusions the Siegels’ lives are built on, and the contradictory and sickly comedic world of the American Dream.