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Film / A Little Chaos

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Do you believe in order over landscape?

King Louis XIV: And what protection can the gardener afford this rose from the harsh elements of change?
Sabine De Barra: Patience, care, and a little warmth from the sun are our best hope, your Majesty.

A Little Chaos is a 2014 film directed by Alan Rickman.

André le Nôtre is the king's gardener, commissioned to build the gardens of Versailles. He hires a relatively unknown gardener, Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet), to build an outdoor ballroom on the grounds. While the common-born Sabine navigates the perils of the French court, André wrestles with his devotion to his work and his growing attraction to Sabine, despite his existing marriage.

A Little Chaos is the second and last film directed by Alan Rickman, and the second film featuring him and Kate Winslet since 1995's Sense and Sensibility.

A Little Chaos contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Chekhov's Gun: Early in the film, Madame le Nôtre asks André to button up one of her gloves. The same glove is found at the flooded garden, revealing her role behind it.
  • Death of a Child: Sabine's daughter died years ago in a road accident.
  • Establishing Character Moment: André le Nôtre is introduced very carefully aligning a tree using precise instruments, and working even as the sun sets to make sure it is planted to his specifications on time.
  • Every Proper Lady Should Curtsy: Ladies curtsy repeatedly, especially when in the presence of the king.
  • Fish out of Water: The commoner Sabine among the nobles at court.
  • Flashback: The deaths of Sabine's daughter and husband is told in a flashback.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Madame le Nôtre has multiple affairs (with his reluctant permission), justifying it as both of them being allowed to seek happiness elsewhere. Sabine's husband also had a mistress and he and their child died on a visit to her. But André's attraction to Sabine is justified, though she's unable to reciprocate while he is still married.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: The most admirable dresses are shown, especially in the ballroom scenes.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Madame le Nôtre has cheated on her husband for years, but when she understands that he is in love with Sabine, she gets jealous and decides to ruin her career: she plans to destroy the garden that Sabine is building.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Repeatedly, to show the physical work that goes into gardening, especially without modern equipment.
  • Historical Domain Character: André Le Nôtre, King Louis XIV, Philippe, Duke of Orleans, Madame Palatine, Madame De Montespan, Antoine Lauzun...
  • Innocent Flower Girl: Sabine is pure and kind, and is a gardener associated with flowers.
  • King Incognito: After the death of his wife, King Louis XIV retreats alone to a pear garden... where Sabine is supposed to meet a gardener there to exchange perennials. He allows her to believe that he is that person until she realizes who he is, and then asks her to go on as they were.
  • Married to the Job: André le Nôtre is very obviously more devoted to his work than to his wife.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: As Sabine finds out that the sluice gate is open and they need more help, one of the men suggests they need to pray. Sabine exclaims "to hell with that" before attempting to shut the sluice gate herself.
  • Scenery Porn: Features gorgeous shots of the countryside, palaces, gardens and mansions.
  • Self-Made Woman: Sabine's success is entirely determined by herself, and she shows on numerous occasions that she's more suited to the profession of builder than the men.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: King Louis XIV. He fluctuates between being warm and affectionate and cold and exacting, sometimes to the same person within the same conversation. It's implied that he is like this all the time, to the point that the builders of Versailles constantly have to rework their plans to his specifications, even if it's overbudget or physically impossible.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Even when Sabine's deep in mud or drenched, or covered in dirt, she is strikingly gorgeous.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film starts with an opening line stating that there is an outdoor ballroom at Versailles, and "that much is true." The rest is a mix of creative license and real history.