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October 31, 2006 > Marie Antoinette- A Movie Review

Marie Antoinette- A Movie Review

by H. S. Sheikh

Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, with Kirsten Dunst in the title role, opened to mixed reactions at Cannes earlier this year, with some of the audience moved to booing. It seems like it will be greeted similarly in theaters nationwide. The movie is, literally, a visual feast and contains a few decent metaphors, but fails to be a serious, plot-and-character driven historical drama. And this time, there is no Bill Murray around to carry the film on the shoulders of his estimable acting genius.

Visually, the movie is delightful--a delectable, powdered confection. Coppola’s desire to portray the glamour and decadence of eighteenth century French royalty results in the most chocolates, strawberries, whipped cream, and tarts to ever be consumed onscreen, while a stunning barrage of gowns, garters, shoes, towering hairstyles, accessories, and powder applied by-the-bushel to wigs and countenances leave Marie and her ladies-in-waiting looking rather like teacakes themselves. The pressures, cliques, gossip, scandals, hedonism, and ultimately, ennui, of the French Court are also depicted well. Life as a French princess and future queen is glamorous and lavish, but also a public spectacle. Everything from dinner to getting dressed to childbirth garners an unwanted, critical audience. After her dressing gown is exchanged through half a dozen hands one morning while she stands shivering, Marie protests to the Comtesse de Noailles, “This is ridiculous.” The austere Comtesse played marvelously by Judy Davis, soberly quips, “This is Versailles.”

In other areas, however, the film fails to be powerful or stunning.  The integration of a rock soundtrack, including Bow Wow Wow, Siouxsie, Banshees, and New Order is novel and edgy and will be attractive to teenagers in the audience, but traditionalists will be unable reconcile how out-of-place it sounds with the period depicted. They will also bristle at the lack of French accents, or even the lack of congruent accents (both American and British accents are heard throughout), which would have instilled a greater sense of authenticity. Perhaps both soundtrack and accents are larger metaphors Coppola uses to state how unsuited Marie is to her post, but the movie doesn’t evoke enough deep thought and emotion to pull that off. That is evident in the minimal dialogue and poor pacing of the movie, which starts to drag, become monotonous, then culminate in an unsatisfying and weak ending.

To depict Marie’s insulation from the outside world while indulging in excess, Coppola permits only blurry, brief glimpses of lower classes and a whiff of revolution and unrest. But he takes a good metaphor too far: Marie’s exaggerated ignorance of her unpopularity amongst the people is not only inaccurate, but makes it harder to deem her ill fate anything but a proper come-uppance (which also fails to make it into the movie). Had Coppola decided to include Marie’s final moments, which in their reported courage and dignity somewhat redeemed her failure as a queen, her film could have been more meaningful and memorable. As it stands, however, the poor pacing, bland plot, and disappointing climax reduce it to a visually lush glimpse into the intrigue and decadence of the French Court.

 
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