The family and I watched Marie Antoinette last night and as usual, when I don’t expect to be entertained because of all the “press,” I usually am. This proves to me that I should never, ever listen to critics, and I don’t. The only critic I’ve ever come close to agreeing with the majority of the time is Leonard Maltin, who’s movie encyclopedia I own and which we all call “The Family Bible” because we all consult it so much.
That said, I’m not a big fan of Sofia Coppola in particular, since I thought Lost in Translation was almost as boring as her performance in The Godfather, III. But, I must say that she has outdone even herself in Marie Antoinette. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m sure of it. Some of my coworkers have said they cannot get past the anachronistic soundtrack, which puts in some very odd pieces of contemporary music at the most in-apropos times. They expected non-stop Vivaldi or something? Despite the music, and it wasn’t all bad, I found this movie to be lushly and leisurely filmed, maybe almost too leisurely at times, but always innocently acted. The best thing you can say about ANY movie nowadays is that it’s not pretentious and this one is definitely not. Even the leisurely pace serves to enlighten us about the vast swaths of time royals have on their hands to play, eat sugary treats, gamble, drink, make love, and loll around in the gardens. Marie and her court do all these with sensuous abandon and then some. Some will not like the time Coppola takes to thoroughly examine her subject, but I found it very necessary to the story and far from boring.
Kirsten Dunst is wonderful as the young, naive 14 year old Marie, who leaves her home in Austria and goes to a foreign land, giving up her beloved dog, her clothes, and her identity, to marry an unseen fiance. She also discovers that she has vast reserves of money at her disposal. Nevertheless, her life becomes one of tedium, gossip, and protocol, so what else would any young person do in her leisure time, but spend, spend, spend? While not as cliched as this sounds, Coppola does her best work in showing us that Marie, while not an ordinary girl by any stretch of the imagination, still acted in ordinary human ways; especially those common to the female experience. We girls must do the best with what we are handed in a man’s world and Marie, if anything can be said about her, did her best. Because of her boredom she focused on setting fashion trends, attended parties, and made very close friends when others would snub her.
The most important aspect of the movie centered on her relationship with Louis, who at first seemed totally disinterested in having a wife. For Marie, however, the entire future of France rested upon her young shoulders because she had not yet “produced” an heir after almost 5 years of marriage. It was her job, her mother wrote her continually from Austria, to interest Louis XVI (played by Talia Shire’s son and Coppola’s cousin) in sexual matters, using any tricks she has at her naive disposal. If not, she was the failure, not Louis, and countries depended upon the fruits of their sexual congress, don’t you know? Talk about pressure! It is implied in the movie that both Marie and Louis were virgins when they married and the sweet “getting to know each other” phase of Marie and Louis’ relationship is very endearing, even if we don’t really know what happened in the royal bedroom. Through consistent effort and some unknown “advice” from Marie’s brother to Louis, the marriage is finally consummated. While there is an assertion in the movie of one affair with a Swedish soldier, Marie was never known historically to have been unfaithful to Louis, even though there were horrible rumors about her in the opposing political parties’ press (gee, politics hasn’t changed much).
Overall, I liked this movie a lot and may have to buy it for my collection. The cinematography is gorgeous and ranks this movie as a piece of art in my book. Very few movies impress me in this category. I think I find that the Coppolas in general can really “see” a movie in all its vivid colors and striations, which is why they make the most realistic movies in their genres. Believe it or not Francis Coppola, Sofia’s father, directed Jeepers Creepers II, a teen horror sequel I’m sure that everybody missed, but which turned out for me to be an exceptional horror film. Why? Well, the plot was typical: Team players and cheerleaders coming back from a basketball game through the Oklahoma (or was it Kansas?) countryside are stalked by an insect/human creature that wakes up to feed every 23 years. Eventually, everyone but a few bite the dust and the creature lives on to feed again. But because of the cinematography by Coppola, the movie atmosphere was exceptionally dreamy, surreal, and evocative of a hot, summer afternoon bus ride with impatient and bored teens. One could feel the humidity coming off the fields of corn when their bus broke down. Claustrophobic to say the least.
That’s what I like about good film quality and color. You can feel the lush boudoirs of the royals in Marie Antoinette. You can almost taste the multi-colored confections presented at the parties. The tactile sensations of gambling chips and the clinking of glasses means you are practically there to witness it yourself. You can even imagine Marie and her friends’ sense of simple awe at the sunrise reflecting across the mall of Versailles palace as they gambol to the edge of the water after a late, late party of drinking and dancing. They are giggly, drunk, and happy to be alive. What teenager hasn’t done or felt that after partying outside? I know I have. Using such an historical subject and time so alien to our own culture to evoke such nostalgic and specific feelings in a thoroughly American audience is, for me, nothing short of genius.