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Marie Antoinette
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by Kim Voynar

"Coppola brilliantly paints a reflection of our own society ..."
3 stars

Sofia Coppola has done an interesting thing with "Marie Antoinette." Rather than make a staid historical drama about the life and death of the doomed queen, she's instead chosen to make a film that's really a statement about celebrity and excess in our own time, as reflected through the lens of the court at Versailles in late 18th century France.

Coppola keeps her focus firmly on the young queen, resisting the urge to contrast the opulence of life at Versailles with the crippling poverty in which the average commoner lived during the reign of Louis XVI. This has the effect of keeping the viewer myopically involved with the story Coppola wants to tell, and that's a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmaker. Marie Antoinette lived her life in a bubble, in complete isolation from the poverty in which her subjects were deeply mired. They were struggling to survive amidst a crippled economy; Marie Antoinette was struggling to survive the boredom of the royal court.

The film opens with the young Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst), just 14, having just been bargained off to a marriage with the Louis, the teenage grandson of the King of France, in a marriage treaty between France and Austria. She was the youngest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and the many-titled Maria Theresa, one of the most powerful rulers in Central Europe at that time.

Coppola shows us the Austrian teenager, known as Maria Antonia, waking on her last day in Austria. She is carefully dressed, looking more than a little like Disney's Alice in Wonderland, with her straight, blond hair pulled back from her face. Like Paris Hilton, that famous modern blonde who carries her small accessory dog everywhere she goes, Maria Antonia tightly clutches a small dog close to her chest.

The girl tearfully tells her mother goodbye, then gets in the carriage for the long trip to her new home. It's worth noting that the young Maria Antonia bears herself with a poise and comportment one would be hard-pressed to find in teens today. She knows her destiny and she doesn't fight against it -- perhaps because she accepts and even welcomes it, perhaps because she knows there's no point.

The handing off from Maria Antonia's Austria escort to the French escort that will deliver her to Versailles takes place in an elaborate ceremony in a tent placed with painstaking accuracy on the border between the two countries. Maria Antonia enters the tent on the Austrian side, she is stripped of every last vestige of her Austrian life -- clothes, friends, her dog ("You can have as many French dogs as you wish," the girl is told), even her name, which becomes Marie Antoinette -- and made over into a French fashion plate. She exits the tent on the French side, steps into the waiting carriage, and is whisked away to the Wonderland that is Versailles.

Coppola paints the court at Versaille in brilliant technicolor pastels. Versailles is a strange and wonderful place, and we see it through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old girl, miserably lonely for home, married, in short order, to the socially awkward and disinterested fifteen-year-old heir to the throne of France. When Marie and Louis take to their marriage bed on the eve of their wedding, they are accompanied by the entire court; everyone is eager to ensure the marriage is consummated to make it official, and that an heir be produced as quickly as possible.

Coppola imagines here how it would be to be two teenagers who find themselves in that situation -- the 14-year-old girl who must have sex with this boy she barely knows and get pregnant, and the 15-year-old boy with little interest in accomplishing this; it's a bit like a middle school dance, where the boys and girls are shoved together into a room full of people and expected to sink or swim in the murky sea of sex and romance. Would teenagers in 1770 have reacted the same way that today's teens might? Coppola shows us what it might have been like if they did.

Coppola uses minimal dialogue throughout the film; information is conveyed to us in actions and visuals more than words, and the emotional tone for the scenes is set, in large part, by overheard bits of whispered gossip along the corridors of the palace. Perhaps because we are seeing Versailles through the eyes of a teenager, it feels very much like a high school, with all the various court ladies vying for positions of rank and popularity, the King's courtesan in the role of the class slut, the obsession over fashion and distractions, and endless unwritten rules of social decorum to memorize. Because she is the dauphine, the other ladies are not permitted to speak to Marie until she speaks to them, which puts her in the unenviable position of having to constantly remember who ranks above whom when she needs a hankie to blow her nose.

The film, overall, plays rather like a music-video version of the story of Marie Antoinette. Coppola has an artistic eye, and there are some beautifully shot scenes in this film. The music is modern -- there's a fantastic scene at a masked ball that blends 18th century dancing with a fast, contemporary song. The tone is modern, especially in the dialogue between Marie and her intimate friends, and there's even a shot of a Converse sneaker in one of the scenes.

This might seem a bit disconcerting, but the overall effect works quite well; by blending the tale of one of the world's most infamous celebreties with a modern tone and feel, Coppola holds a mirror up the our own society and values: The excess, the utter lack of awareness of people who don't have all the trappings and comforts of wealth -- or at least today's middle class -- the boredom that leads to marking time with parties, rich food and gambling.

Coppola brilliantly paints a reflection of our own society by using Marie Antoinette to show us ourselves: The opulence, the waste, the revolutions that result when those in power ignore those they are supposed to serve.

We may not like what we see there, but the way in which she reveals it to us is visually stunning and compelling, and the lessons to be learned from the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette have never been more timely.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15265&reviewer=417
originally posted: 10/20/06 22:00:48
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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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