Lauren Greenfield’s documentary concerns septuagenarian Florida timeshare mogul David Siegel, his surgically enhanced 43-year-old trophy wife Jackie, and their many children and not-housetrained pets. Greenfield began filming long before the 2008 financial crash jeopardised the construction of America’s largest residence, their tacky homage to the Palace of Versailles (by way of Las Vegas). However, the Siegels gamely let her continue even as their ostentatious lifestyle descended into a comi-tragedy of pet poo, unpaid servants and recriminations. As Jackie whines that the federal bank bailout was “supposed to help people like us”, David threatens to replace her with “two 20-year-olds” if she can’t curb her retail addiction, which basically means going to Wal-Mart…in a stretch limo. In all its compelling, often hilarious ghastliness, The Queen of Versailles is both a cautionary tale of sub-prime property speculation and an unflinching study of taste-free wealth on the slide. And despite the gift-on-a-plate that the financial crash gave film maker Greenfield, she expresses empathy where another film maker might have gone for mere sensationalism. Both are on offer here, to the great benefit of this fine documentary. Utterly compelling!
Winner Best Director, Sundance Film Festival