Marie Antoinette Movie Review

The word "soft" summarizes the world of Sofia Coppola, perfectly. Each film she has made has the tenderness, vagueness and, ultimately, the sensibility of a fluffy, white cloud in the middle of a blue sky. With two near-perfect films on her resume, 1999's The Virgin Suicides and 2003's majestic Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola's third film should have been an easy play. Instead, we are given the beguiling Marie Antoinette.

There's the famous Marie-Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst): the one who so insipidly said "Let them eat cake" when learning of the famine and starvation of the French people and the one who had her head cut off and displayed, with ample delight, to the same people she told to eat said cake. Then there's the private Marie Antoinette: the one who was forced into a French marriage (she was Austrian originally) by her brutish mother and who would eventually lose a newborn baby right as her kingdom was crashing down. Coppola seems very confused as to whom she wants to show in Marie Antoinette.

The film begins as Marie is being married off to Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), who will take over for his grandfather, King Louis XV (a particularly boisterous Rip Torn) when he passes on. In the film's first third (roughly till Louis XV dies), Coppola paints the world of Marie Antoinette like the original Paris Hilton: the little dog constantly in her arms, the frivolous clothes and the constant pouting over the traditions of French royalty. There is a dreaminess to the first half of the film that sets off a mesmerizing sense of dazzle. It doesn't even seem weird that '80s post-punk heroes Gang of Four, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and The Cure share the same area as classical composers like Rameau.

Far from a social commentary, Marie Antoinette seems to cast off any sense of history or class war in favor of the daze of womanhood. The scenes of Antoinette frolicking around with her daughter with sheep in a garden and the shot of her giggling uncontrollably after finally having sex with her husband seem much more important than scenes where the poverty-stricken people of France rally outside the royal palace. This is all for the better, since all of Coppola's previous films exist in a certain dreamscape while dealing with the emotional plights of their heroines.

Trouble rears its ugly head in the film's last quarter when, seemingly out of nowhere, Coppola starts searching for Antoinette's soul on the physical plane. The brilliant cinematographer Lance Acord (Lost in Translation, Adaptation) keeps the imagery wondrously whimsical, but with the death of her child and the French people forcing Antoinette and Louis to leave their palace brashly drag the film into a fake sense of reality. Coppola's second-guessing of her treatment turns the end of this otherwise breathtaking pastel wonderland into a shockingly uninvolved dramatic stab at insincere integrity, and it becomes almost impossible to give into the featherbed that Coppola lays out for us. Call me a softy.

Reviewed as part of the 2006 New York Film Festival.

And asparagus. Let them eat that too.


Marie Antoinette Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2006


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