Queen of Versailles (2012)
“A documentary about a billionaire and his family who may lose it all.”
by Richard Rey
The Queen of Versailles is a tribute to the human condition we experience in our lives: all of us have lost something important. Shot over a 2 year period, the documentary follows billionaire David Siegel and his family. At first we witness the success, fruition, and personal fulfillment experienced by Siegel as CEO and founder of Westgate Resorts & Hotels – what he claims to be the largest timeshare company in the world. As the film progresses, we see how the Wall Street crash of 2008 effects the Siegel family’s overtly luxurious lifestyle and the impatient and stubborn David. A man of few choice words and a natural knack for doing business, the struggle to face what he fears most: the loss of his material possessions, including his prized 90,000 square foot dream Versailles home priced at 75 million, roots itself deep inside his heart, first disturbing then humbling him. We follow the lives of his 7 children, who he seems to love profoundly, yet understands so little about. We are both bemused and bemoaned as we follow his trophy wife Jackie, a former Miss Florida. Intellectually she seems to have a good handle on the goings on within the family, yet doesn’t know how to fulfill her role as wife and mother when the nannies and cooks are let go due to the unsettling economic crisis. We enjoy every moment spent with her in her struggles to find her new niche in the family. The three nannies that are left to help out act as great supporting characters with an understanding about life that the Siegel family has yet to achieve: luxury isn’t everything. Though Jackie says she could make due with a simple four-bedroom 300,000 dollar house if she had to, the truth remains that she has lived a bourgeoisie life for so long that even she can’t seem to kick her old spending habits. She piles board games into her carts at Walmart that will never be played, and even purchases a brand new bike for one of the children. When one of the nannies unloads the bike and heads through the garage, we see heaps of bikes that look brand new laying around in disarray. The image is powerful and effective. Living within our means seems to be the message David Siegel would leave with us, his ambition to do so is highlighted towards the end of the film when he refuses to acknowledge his love for his wife or children after they’ve refused to turn the lights off in the house when they’re not using them.
Despite the fact the film is centered around a once-billionaire family facing first world problems, both the emotions and ignorance are genuine, the characters affable and the stakes high. It’s clear that the intention of the piece was not to show us how inhumane high class snobs live their lives, but to show that we all fight our own battles. We care about what will become of them and their lives: in the end it’s not about the money and it’s not about the Versailles mansion that’s finally put up for auction and saved. It’s about people, people coming together during hardships and facing new challenges: for the children attending a public school; for the mother: coming to grips with the loss of the Versailles mansion; for the father: learning to live providently and repave his way back to the top. The story is an intriguing and pleasant one that suspends us to a luxurious reality most of us will never face yet one with which we can all identify because, after all in the end we’re all the same.