A Little Chaos

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 11, 2015

With his iniquitous performances in "Die Hard" and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," Americans type cast at Alan Rickman as the creepy British super villan. So it was rather surprising when, in 1997, he made his directorial debut with a quiet, character-driven film "The Winter Guest," an understated art piece.

Now, these many years later, Rickman has released his directorial follow-up, "A Little Chaos." Again it is an art piece that focuses on performance. And again, Americans get to see what British audiences have known for years, Rickman is a multi-textured artist.

Landscapers Monsieur André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) each put aside their separate turmoil to pursue a common goal. They are tasked to design and build one of the main gardens at the new palace at Versailles in the court of King Louis XIV of France (Rickman).

It isn't a stretch to assume that a woman actively working as a landscape designer in the 15th Century will come up against a certain amount of gender discrimination, and de Barra does. She also faces class discrimination. But those well-worn and obvious themes are not what this movie is about.

"A Little Chaos" is a fanciful, if restrained, romance and light satire that contrasts the divinity of natural beauty against the indulgent manners of society. Nature is chaotic indeed, and art brings this to order. But human transcendence only happens when these two great forces work together.

It is truly the performances in this film that make it noteworthy. Winslet and Schoenaerts have very little in the way of backstory to communicate their world-weary, haggard hurt.

The actors show their inner workings through the restraint of forces bubbling underneath the surface. And the character parts have the same vibrancy as the leads. Rickman has given himself a plum of a role in Louis XIV, and Stanley Tucci as Duke Philippe d'Orleans plays his role as though it were written specifically for him.

The scenes are dialogue heavy and overtly metaphoric, but these elements are not a liability. They are a vehicle for performances, the unnatural design of art.

"A Little Chaos"
Rated R | 113 minutes