Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette (2006) 9/10
At the age of 14, a member of the Austrian royal family (Kirsten Dunst) is sent to France to marry (the future) Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). There her name is styled Marie Antoinette and she struggles with loneliness and a sexless marriage, while under great pressure to produce an heir. Written and drected by Sofia Coppola.

Shortly after I finished watching Marie Antoinette, I realized how very much it resembled Coppola's previous picture, Lost in Translation. Both involved lonely, privileged young women in foreign lands and with inattentive husbands. Both women mask their loneliness with partying and gaiety. That Coppola chooses to direct her attention to sad, disaffected women trying to find themselves amidst noise and clamour speaks of her as a director. It's also working to create some very effective films.

The film is not concerned with perfect period recreation. 1980s dance music is used to create an atmosphere of fun and intensity, brighter-than-period colors are used to express Marie's youth and playfulness. Nonetheless, the story sticks pretty close to history, albeit with its sympathies squarely with Marie.

It's wonderful. The movie stays committed to being a character study, and yet Marie Antoinette's character is revealed amidst noise and color and costume and pageantry. It's got all the visual wealth that a movie can provide, and its imagery is very mischievous, having fun with the shoes, the bedchamber, the hairstyles, and all of that.

Dunst is wonderful, and deserves accolades for this role. She is a stranger in a strange land, lost and confused in all the pomp of Versailles. But she is blue-blooded and grew up in a court, so she cannot simply act confused. It's a delicate balance, as is aging from 14 to 38 (or so) with little makeup. Her face is on-screen almost all the time, and she remains captivating.

The movie becomes a bit confusing at the end, if you don't know the particulars of how the final days of Louis & Marie played out, the script is not terribly interested in telling you. At that point, the movie really runs out of steam; it feels like Coppola is less interested in this part. That probably sounds like a bigger flaw than it is, it's more of a quibble, really.

Marie Antoinette doesn't glamorize royalty, but it doesn't exactly deglamorize it either. There's definitely some lovely pageantry and cool clothes. There's also the simple reality of being a young girl sent away from home forever, and having even your beloved dog taken away from you (she is allowed "to have as many French dogs as you like" but can bring nothing of Austria with her, she is told as she weeps helplessly). It finds a truth in the humanity of whoever ends up in any overwhelming situation, and sees her with great sympathy.

I thought it was a hell of an achievement. Frankly, the descriptions I'd read sounded kitsch, or coy, but this was a very honest film, just done in an unusual way.

(Let them eat cross-post)