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6 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Marie Antoinette
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by Mel Valentin

"Worth seeing? Surprisingly, yes."
4 stars

Roundly jeered by audiences at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and vilified in the French press for its apparently derogatory, inaccurate portrayal of a long-dead French queen, Sofia Coppola’s follow up to "Lost in Translation," "Marie Antoinette" is thankfully not the career-ending disaster that the early response indicated. While "Marie Antoinette" is far from a perfect film, suffering as it does from a slightly banal storyline and an often unsympathetic central character, it’s also never short of watchable, thanks, as expected, to the period detail (filming at Versailles, the official residence of French monarchs helps), sumptuous costumes, painterly compositions and cinematography, and yes, a soundtrack of mostly 80s-alternative hits that, with one or two (or three) exceptions complements the other elements on view.

1768, Austria. Born into privilege, wealth, and power, the fourteen year-old the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa of Austria (Marianne Faithfull), Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst), has been the future king of France, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). Marie Antoinette leaves everything behind, including her friends, her family, and her pet dog, with one exception Ambassador Mercy (Steve Coogan), the representative of the Austrian court in France. At the border between Austria and France, she meets the Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis), a representative of the French monarchy who will instruct Marie Antoinette in the protocols of the French court. As a symbol of her passage from Austria to France, from her family to the family of the French king, Louis XV (Rip Torn), Marie Antoinette is compelled to disrobe completely, changing into clothes provided by the French.

Marie Antoinette meets her future husband, Louis XVI, for the first time. Affable, but slightly befuddled and self-absorbed, Louis finds it difficult to show anything beyond the common courtesies expected of him. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI marry and make their home at Versailles, the official residence of the king, but Louis has trouble consummating their relationship. The news quickly spreads through court gossip, pushing Marie Antoinette to the margins. From afar, her mother, Maria Teresa (Marianne Faithfull), counsels her in the demands and obligations of her position at the French court, to procreate and give birth to a French heir to the throne. At nineteen, Marie Antoinette ascends to the French throne with her husband, Louis VXI.

Marie Antoinette already lavish lifestyle grows even more ostentatious. She acquires a French villa of her own, a private retreat from the suffocating routines at Versailles, but continues to throw parties for herself and her entourage, go on expensive shopping sprees (shoes, shoes, and even more shoes), and eventually takes a lover, the Swedish Count Fersen (Jamie Dornan). Marie Antoinette begins to develop a more serious, sober character, however, when the news finally arrives: she’s pregnant with (presumably) the king’s heir. But her joy is the court’s disappointment. Her first child is a girl, but the second is a boy and thus, the heir to the French throne. As Marie Antoinette continues her pampered lifestyle, she begins to receive news of unrest outside Versailles, the popular discontent that will ultimately lead to the French Revolution and the executions of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI for treason against the new republic.

Story wise, Sofia Coppola had to wrest a narrative, a storyline and character arc out of biography and historical facts. Creating that storyline and character arc, however, often involves fictionalizing events, eliminating inconvenient facts, and otherwise compressing events that take place over several decades. Here, drawing from Antonia Fraser’s biography, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, Coppola chooses a potentially banal storyline, Marie Antoinette’s personal journey from inexperienced child to self-centered party girl and ultimately, to mother, wife, and queen. Near the end, Marie Antoinette chooses to remain with Louis XVI at Versailles, when fleeing with her children would have been the safest, most prudent decision. Instead, she remained, leaving Versailles only when Louis XVI decided to leave and by then, their fates were sealed.

While that story arc might be banal to some, it at least gives Marie Antoinette a dramatic structure, albeit a loose one. Although the loose, meandering structure will be dull to some moviegoers, the real question here is whether Coppola succeeds in making the doomed queen of France a sympathetic figure. The short answer: a highly qualified yes. By emphasizing Marie Antoinette’s excesses during the middle third, Coppola risks losing her audience. Coppola presents Marie Antoinette as a decadent, vapid Paris Hilton-like member of the idle aristocracy. Yes, the famous “Let them eat cake” line gets mentioned, but only to debunk it. Marie Antoinette’s lifestyle, however, more than proves the point, as do the Greek chorus of sorts, Aunt Sophie (Shirley Henderson) and Aunt Victoire (Molly Shannon) who continually comment on events.

Oddly, Sofia Coppola ends Marie Antoinette not with Marie Antoinette’s death, but with Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI leaving Versailles for the last time before their capture, imprisonment, and eventual execution by the French Revolution. Coppola doesn’t even bother to slip in a title card to explain Marie Antoinette’s fate. It feels like a major cop-out and cheat (because, in all honesty, it is). The reasoning behind Coppola’s decision is, at best, murky, unless she meant to avoid or limit French criticism (she received it anyway, as expected). Either way, moviegoers unfamiliar with the French Revolution will leave the movie theater with unanswered questions. Hopefully, they'll bring a friend with a passing familiarity with French history (if they haven't read this review, of course).

On the plus side, Sofia Coppola doesn’t force her cast into adopting French accents (with the exception of non-American actors in speaking roles, of course), an otherwise difficult proposition given the mix of contemporary and archaic idioms the characters use. And while the early reviews denigrated Coppola’s admittedly idiosyncratic decision to use 80s alternative hits for her soundtrack, mixed in with period music, it turns out to be one of Coppola’s better-informed decisions. For the first third, Coppola relies on period-specific music or contemporary music re-orchestrated using 18th-century musical instruments (here a harpsichord, there a harpsichord, everywhere a harpsichord). It’s only when Marie Antoinette becomes a full-fledged party girl at a masked ball in Paris that the music switches over into contemporary songs played as originally intended. Coppola chooses Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden” as the track where everything changes for Marie Antoinette.

To recap, set aside the early, overly harsh criticisms and, if you can, the art-cinema trappings of the storyline, and what you get is a semi-compelling, but always ravishing look at a distant time, place, and culture. "Marie Antoinette" may be flawed (irredeemably flawed for some), but it also confirms that Sofia Coppola, whatever her family connections or premature accolades and awards, is a talented filmmaker. And yes, that last sentence will be a surprise to readers familiar with this reviewer’s criticisms of Sofia Coppola’s last film, "Lost in Translation" (as much as a surprise as it was to write).

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15265&reviewer=402
originally posted: 10/20/06 03:29:58
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User Comments

5/21/14 Joe Smaltz Dreary, drab, boreing, tedious, a poor girl in an arranged marrige with a gay guy.. 1 stars
3/07/11 brian It's like the Moulin Rouge redux without the humor. Unconventionality is not enough. 3 stars
6/12/10 art a geat big COSTUME PARTY! 1 stars
3/16/09 :/ bleh not that good. 2 stars
1/07/09 Mariah disappointing, i thought it was going to be way better. but kirsten dunst did a great job. 2 stars
9/25/08 Annie G Amazing costumes, but I couldn’t figure out why else anyone would watch! 2 stars
5/29/08 Matt Inappropriate music and a story which suddenly ends when in truth it is far from over. 3 stars
5/15/08 Karrie Millheim Good protrayl of Marie Antoinette, the only problem was the ending was stupid 4 stars
5/09/08 doug great movie, bad ending. left me with tons of questions 4 stars
4/01/08 superfriek OMG, this movie rocks 4 stars
6/11/07 kiara best movie sooooo good and the costumes and food look sooooo good 5 stars
5/22/07 Corky like spending two hours eating dry white bread 1 stars
5/08/07 David Pollastrini Kirsten Dunst is hot in this! 3 stars
4/23/07 fools♫gold Too OLD to reign; Sofia Coppola's Great Work twice accomplished. 5 stars
4/22/07 djacosta Embarassing piece of shit 1 stars
3/30/07 chris. hey look! they partied just like we party! 3 stars
2/27/07 Beau Good portrayal and cast! great directing from 'copola' and performance from 'kirsten dunst' 3 stars
1/23/07 Antoinette Forbes I think this Movie was very said 5 stars
1/11/07 Richard Brandt The most interesting part was Louis' ruinous investment in a foreign war... 3 stars
1/03/07 jazzman Poor try on remaking a modern Amadeus...What an ending!!! 1 stars
12/12/06 jdean62 Acting was great ...but it put me to sleep !!! I was disappointed... 3 stars
12/12/06 William Goss Looks great, but any novelty wears off within an hour, with dry costume drama persisting. 3 stars
11/10/06 Louise A sumptuous feast for the eyes, tinged with the frustration felt by the young queen. 4 stars
11/05/06 Aaron tranquilizing take on most exttravagant period in history 1 stars
10/30/06 justine not a hip adaptation as it's peddled to be but a tragic bore. 1 stars
10/30/06 mac its was great love it ! it could have been better 4 stars
10/28/06 anni it sux 1 stars
10/26/06 ken Glittering, gaudy, profoundly feminine, rather gayish, frevolous and completely pointless ! 2 stars
10/24/06 Misha Definitely not a history lesson, visually stunning, conveys period excesses very well 4 stars
10/23/06 Stacy Like L.I.T., this would be better if it utilized some sort of narrorator. I liked it, tho'. 3 stars
10/22/06 Lauren Different and bold, and for this alone it is difficult film to dismiss. Worth seeing. 4 stars
10/21/06 Riki As meandering as Lost in Translation, if you like that sort of thing 3 stars
10/20/06 Pritchett Sofia Coppola is as good a director as she is an actress. 1 stars
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  20-Oct-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 13-Feb-2007



Directed by
  Sofia Coppola

Written by
  Sofia Coppola

  Kirsten Dunst
  Jason Schwartzman
  Judy Davis
  Rip Torn
  Rose Byrne
  Asia Argento

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