“This is Ridiculous” Antoinette
“This madam, is Versailles” Comtesse de Noailles
Marie Antoinette is an overindulgent, punk rock portrait of an iconic princess as well as a beautiful portrayal of a naïve and misunderstood young woman. Succeeding in the creation of a film that effectively tells either of those tales is a tough enough outing, let alone a film that flows between the two extremes. Through the use of glamorous and excessive post-punk aesthetic (in style/music) along with an auteurist style of purposefully nonchalant story telling, Sofia Coppola creates an intriguing view into the inner workings of a fascinating historical figure.
The story itself is simple enough; a beautiful adolescent woman is strategically married off to a foreign land. From that point the viewer watches as her life unfolds. The moment Kirsten Dunst’s character, Marie Antoinette, is stripped of the artifice of her Austrian nature we watch as she is molded and shaped into the persona that would eventually damn her and the royalty that made her. One of the reasons that the film shines is that it sweeps through important historical events to linger on the ostensibly mundane. This could be considered one of Sofia Coppola’s auteurist stamps, leaving the viewer to merely experience the lives of her subjects. In the end it’s not simply the momentous events that define life, but the moments in between.
The story is grounded in the turmoil behind a displaced girl attempting to remain Austrian and also to assimilate to her new role as the queen of France. The viewer watches as she and her new husband Louis XVI played by Jason Schwartzman, both mere children, are forced to assume the roles of adults. The pressure of presenting France with an heir is overwhelming and the constant cloud of whispers that follows her is daunting. The other side of the story focuses upon the youthful nature of Antoinette. There are lavish parties and numerous situations that highlight her playful curiosity that is the embodiment of youth.
Truly this film stands on its own as a grandiosely cinematic period piece that remains modern while not getting completely lost in its modernity. Sofia Coppola’s tendency toward letting character emerge through simplicity of dialogue and situation combined with the gorgeous settings (actually shot on the grounds of Versailles) and Lance Acord’s keen and deliberate eye for brilliant light and shimmering yet simple camera work creates a world in which to become lost. Most every aspect of this film shines in its own right. The soundtrack is stunning, pitting the glitz and glam of the eighties new wave and post-punk against the cinematic and symphonic modern soundscapes of Aphex Twin and others, mirroring the two separate stories being told simultaneously. This also creates an interesting comparison to youthful rebellion throughout somewhat similar generations (the excessive eighties to name one).
In addition to the aforementioned reasons, the final reason I’d ‘love to turn you on’ to Marie Antoinette is Kirsten Dunst, who excels in the role of the doomed queen. Challenged with playing a character all the way from the age of 14 to 37 (and one who went through more than her fair share in such a short time) Dunst remains warm and relatable, yet fresh and unpredictable. While I wouldn’t call this her defining moment, in this film, as well as Coppola’s Virgin Suicides (1999), I see glimpses of the woman who is stunning in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011). So make up your own mind, you’ve heard whispered rumors about the film and now you’ve heard my own proclamation, take the journey, go to the parties and sit through the stylized whimsy that is this unique period piece.
- Edward Hill