Marie Antoinette

2007-05-29 11:18
What it’s about:

At the tender age of 14, Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) is shipped off to a far away country to marry a distant relative she has never met - Dauphin Louis (Jason Schwartzman), the future king of France. Lonely and bored, the young Marie throws herself headlong into the decadence of the French court at Versailles, determined to out dress, out gossip and out party the locals. When the king, Louis XV (Rip Torn), dies suddenly from smallpox, Marie finds herself suddenly thrust into ruling an entire country.

What we thought:

Since it premièred to a chorus of boos and a flood of applause at the Cannes Film Festival, Marie Antoinette has been polarising both critics and audiences around the world. You either see it as an overdressed, self-indulgent piece of navel gazing or a brilliant pastiche of styles, ideas and emotions wrapped in a silk bow. The truth is that the film is all these things at once – and that is where its real brilliance lies.

Like writer/director Sofia Coppola’s other films, Marie Antoinette is an intensely personal story. It may be dressed like a lavish period piece, and it may be about a historical figure, but this is really the story of a lonely, frustrated teenager. Like Lost in Translation or The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette is, to a certain extent, Coppola’s own story - that of a privileged, sheltered girl trying to make sense of the unfriendly world.

And it’s this self-referential air that has attracted most of the criticism. With its casual treatment of historical facts, its showy visuals and flamboyant style, many people have accused the film of self-indulgent excess. “How can this spoilt little daddy’s girl go to all the trouble of getting permission to film at Versailles, and then waste it on a film about her own mundane ideas?” they cry.

But that, to a large extent, is the whole point. The sly power of Coppola’s films is that what people think are insults are actually perverse compliments. When she chooses to tell a story it’s because it touches a chord in her own experience – it suggests thoughts or emotions or experiences that she has shared. She doesn’t make grand statements, she tells stories about what she feels, and this is arguably a lot more honest than many other filmmakers.

She shares this honesty with her cast. Many have criticised Kirsten Dunst for “playing herself” – a spoilt Californian air-head – instead of getting into character. Again, this argument plays right into Coppola’s hands. To her, Marie was a spoilt Californian air-head, just as universal and as specific as the rest of us. And this paradigm applies to the rest of the cast. Why is Jason Schwartzman’s Loius so reminiscent of a computer nerd forced into a blind date? Because, accept it or not, teenage boys haven’t changed that much since the 18th century.

As for the claim that Marie Antoinette is just an excuse for a Hollywood brat to play dress-up with her friends, there’s no denying that Coppola is enjoying herself. Yet, in the context of the story she is trying to tell, there’s nothing frivolous about the costumes. And, in the end, why shouldn’t she have fun? We get to join in after all – the film is an absolute visual feast – so why exactly should we complain?

The final nail in the coffin for Coppola’s critics is the fact that she ends her film before Marie and Louis are beheaded, or even dethroned. This, they say, is cowardly. Yet this is really just Coppola being herself. She doesn’t need her film to be part of the grand sweep of history – certainly not the way other people define it. For all its visual grandeur and historical weight, Marie Antoinette is a small story, and that is both its genius and its curse.

- Alistair Fairweather
Marie Antoinette is history rewritten in neon pink icing. Beautiful, frivolous and untouchable, it's the kind of movie you either love or hate, but won't ever forget. Is it too much? Absolutely!

JL Otto (Habsburg) V 2007/03/16 10:26 AM
Marie Antoinette I am a descendant of Marie Antoinette and I for one am very pleased that the last queen of France has finally been portrayed for who she really was and not as the evil, calous monster the world has come to know. The film is brilliant, challenging people's belief of one of history's most controvertial figures.
karen Morrice 2007/03/17 12:06 AM
Marie Antoinette Yeah sure you are a descendant of Marie Antoinette - I'm a descendant of Suddam Hussein - how are you doing??
JH 2007/03/23 12:35 PM
Marie Antoinette The film was great and will recommend it to any one who likes period movies. I had to laugh because in one flash scene of shoes they had a pair of old tekkies in it. MA was a mere child when she and Louis rose to the throne. She had no training in politics or the French social structures. The poor girl was doomed from the start to cause the collapse of the French royal house. What will happen if give a child a candy store to run- they will go crazy and eat all the stock and this is what happened to MA. The movie is excellent as I think it captures the innocent child who have been throw into an adult world and had to fence for herself. And do what children do and that’s live for today.
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