Based 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.
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