The Queen of Versailles: How the 1 Percent Crashes to Earth

Vividly bringing to life the question Don DeLillo poses in Cosmopolis—whether self-denial is a social responsibility—Lauren Greenfield's new documentary tracks the post-crash lifestyle of a riche so nouveau she doesn't realize her appetites strike others as crude. The titular royal is Jackie Siegel, the 40ish IBM engineer-turned-model-turned-trophy wife of 70ish time-share mogul David Siegel. Audiences laugh at the Siegel family's tackiness—their life-size oil paintings of themselves, the pet poop drying on what seems like every carpet, the limo Jackie takes to McDonald's. Schadenfreude is fair play, I guess, but bad taste and questionable hygiene are not crimes—or really even all that LOL-worthy. After the 2008 market collapse, the Siegels have to halt construction on their new "house," a complex the size of Fantasyland in the form of a replica of Versailles. "The banks made us do it," Jackie claims, after Westgate—Siegel's time-share company—lays off 6,000 workers. "I thought that rescue money was supposed to be passed on to the common people," she says of the bailout. "Or, you know, us." Fueling Versailles is a nagging, unresolved tension between what seems like the filmmaker's sympathy for the libertarian boldness of David's unwillingness to compromise—in the land of the free (market), who has the right to police anyone else's asset management or consumption?—and the damning evidence Greenfield presents of the ugly gluttony of that spending in practice.

 
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