What does it mean to be rich? In "The Queen of Versailles," it means many things. Here's a doc that benefitted by events completely out of the director's control -- this story starts off with the intentions of capturing an unlikely pair of billionaires living their eccentric lives, but fate takes over.
There's rich ... and then there's silly rich. For David and Jacqueline Seigel, the latter is preferable and at the opening of this doc, we see that it's their reality. The Seigels are timeshare moguls. For decades, David has built himself an empire, with the PH Westgate Tower in Las Vegas as his crown jewel. For the opening 40 minutes of this doc, we get to bear witness to this colourful and unbelievable reality that's dripping with excess and lined with absurdity.
David is approaching his 70s and Jacqueline is the former Ms. Florida, 30 years his junior. Together they live in a palatial estate with their eight kids. But things are getting crowded (since they only a couple dozen bathrooms!), so why not embark on a journey to build the biggest home in the United States?
After the couple visits Versailles in France (and realize they can't purchase it) the only solution for their newfound needs is to build a modern replica of this architectural icon on the shores of the Florida coast. The 90,000 square foot behemoth will feature tennis courts, baseball diamonds and swimming pools when all is said and done. Oh ... and why not chock that bathroom count up to an even 30?
But here's where director Lauren Greenfield gets lucky with her film. For the Siegels, everything changes in 2008 when the great recession hits, and the family with everything is forced to face an empire in shambles, and all their assets up for sale.
It's hard to quantify what exactly this doc is saying. Man makes plans and God smiles? Being rich is not about your bank account? Being rich makes you ridiculous? People are people are people? "Queen of Versailles" is all of these things and much more. Along with any life lessons you can glean out of this rags-to-riches-to-rags story, there are many laughs to be had over ignorance -- but there is also real anger to feel for their gluttony, and you can even feel empathy for out-of-touch billionaires who live in a fantasy land. Hey, they're people too.
Wed, May 2, 7:00 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Thu, May 3, 9:15 PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Fri, May 4, 8:45 PM Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Full schedule of Hot Docs screenings Hot Docs Day 4: 'Bones Brigade: An Autobiography' Hot Docs Day 3: 'Beauty Is Embarrassing' Hot Docs Day 2: 'Beware Of Mr. Baker' Hot Docs Day 1: "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry"