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October 17, 2006

Marie Antoinette, 2006

marie_antoinette.gifBased on Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey, Sofia Coppola's irreverent, sumptuously stylized, and audaciously freeform, if decidedly uneven adaptation of Fraser's re-evaluative biography casts the controversial monarch in a more human, accessible, and contemporary light - not as an arrogant, out of touch queen who, as proof of the height of her insensitivity over the bread shortage in Paris, was quoted (inaccurately) as saying, "let them eat cake", but as an immature, lonely, out of place, and misunderstood young woman, Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst), an adolescent literally stripped of her national roots and sent away from her native land of Austria to be married off in a symbolic diplomatic merger to the dauphin, Louis Auguste (Jason Schwartzman), and who, barely past her teenage years, was prematurely thrust into the forefront of complicated (and convoluted) eighteenth century domestic and international politics (as the American colonies began their struggle for independence against the British) following the unexpected death of King Louis XV (Rip Torn) from smallpox and the subsequent succession of her shy and introverted husband, crowned Louis XVI, to the throne. Ironically, the transformation of Marie Antoinette from vulnerable Versailles outsider to insulated, (over)indulgent, privileged insider also proves to be the point of divergence for the film, from an idiosyncratically anachronistic, but insightful and thematically attuned exposition on loneliness and alienation, as well as the absurdity of the comedy of manners and soul-crushing rigidity of ceremonial protocol (as personified by the unflappable Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis) who ensured that the rules of court etiquette were strictly enforced) that government every aspect of social behavior, to the more conventional (and consequently, less compelling) portrait of privileged excess, aimlessness, and decadence. Consequently, what emerges from Coppola's manic direction is not only the incisively anachronistic and contemporary reflection on the insularity of privilege, but also the contravening mixed message of oblivious insensibility and fashionable ennui, where the vacuity of the iconic images subvert - and inevitably upstage - the very ideals of a transformative revolution.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 17, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, New York Film Festival

Comments

Very nice write-up, Acquarello. I like that line: "incisively anachronistic and contemporary reflection on the insularity of privilege". I'm curious to get your opinion on two things: 1) what do you think of Coppola's visual style in this film? and 2) did you like the soundtrack and the ways in which she use it throughout the film?

I might try to catch the film this weekend, if possible. Very curious to see what it's like.

Posted by: Michael on Oct 18, 2006 2:05 PM | Permalink

Hi Michael, surprisingly enough, Coppola's visual style really works in the film. It gives a kind of (blatantly) artificial, candy colored glazing to Marie Antoinette's environment, a bit like the way a child (since she was only 14 when she came there) would see this baroque wonderland of Versailles. Her soundtrack also really works well in the film, the music is distanced enough that it's almost nostalgic (like a K-tel record :)) and is combined with some classical (Romanticist period) music, so the reworking is not as jarring as it may seem from the concept.

I really liked the first half of this film (when it was more about her "strangerness"), but I thought that the second half really lost its steam, when it became more of a portrait of boredom and excess (and not in a novel, Antonioni way). I can see where the Princess Diana analogy would fit well with this one.

Posted by: acquarello on Oct 18, 2006 2:47 PM | Permalink

Thanks. Based on your post about the film and what you say about her visual style, I can see how there'd be a good coherence between the style and the subject matter. I was particularly interested in the use of the soundtrack because I thought Coppola used music to good effect in Lost in Translation. I'm curious now if I'll react to the second half the same way as you did; I can sort of see the problem already, especially in your allusion to Antonioni ... there's boredom, and then there's Antonioni-like ennui. Two different things.

Posted by: Michael on Oct 18, 2006 4:09 PM | Permalink

Exactly, I do get the sense sometimes that Coppola is much better suited as a conceptual music video DJ/director, and everything in between is just mixing, crossfading, and beat matching to the next track. :)

Posted by: acquarello on Oct 18, 2006 6:30 PM | Permalink


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