Marie Antoinette
Director: Sofia Coppola (Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation)
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Producers: Sofia Coppola, Ross Katz
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Marianne Faithfull, Steve Coogan, judy Davis, Jason Schwartzman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 123 min
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by Misael Soto
     Nothing matters more than the present, something Sofia Coppola is well aware of, regardless of whether she's making a period piece set in the 18th century or a romantic drama set in the 21st. Via Marie Antoinette's short and tragic life, Sofia (she is “Sofia” as there is only one “Coppola”) has produced a humorous and cleverly conceived film, a sumptuous and visually stunning indictment on our society and its ever diminishing treatment of the “lesser sex”. She presents Antoinette, not as the arrogant beast so many have come to learn and read about, but rather as a girl (and eventually a woman) caught in a world of ridiculous protocol and overbearing monotony. A girl that attains every material possession she’s been taught to desire and eventually, a woman who learns to live it up and enjoy her time as best as she can within her depressingly mundane circumstances. We all know how Marie Antoinette dies. We might know why. This film doesn’t care about any of that, not even caring enough to show her death. Sofia is much more interested in making a remarkably introspective film that’s as much about our times as it is about 18th century France (which isn’t completely due to it’s killer soundtrack).

      Kirsten Dunst’s Antoinette is purposefully too modern in a role she was born to play. Essentially a girl of the 21st century stuck in the 18th century, Antoinette is torn between what she wants to do and what she is told she must do. To cement the Franco-Austrian alliance, she is sent off to Versailles at age 14 to be married to the Dauphin of France (Jason Schwartzman), the hilariously sexually uninterested next king of France (his hobby is the study of locks and keys, an obvious innuendo). Her purpose as his wife is to produce an heir, more importantly a male heir, and when this proves difficult she feels backed into a corner and helpless. Simultaneously she finds herself confounded by endless monotony and predictable routine, and amongst some of the most heartless and gossipy people in her or any other court. There is nothing left for her to do but use the power she has, once settled in, to live her life far away from the consuming cares of the court and enjoy it the best way she knows how: first through the avid possession of material things and eventually through physical pleasure.

      The entire film is cleverly told from her perspective alone, only telling us what she would know in her sheltered existence. The film is lost in her world and thus we only get bits and pieces of the “real world” outside of Versailles. We learn of French aid to the Americans fighting the Revolutionary War, and it’s suggested this is the actual culprit for France’s growing debt and not Antoinette’s horrific amount of spending. Sofia suggests Antoinette was merely the scapegoat, a role women have been playing since antiquity. Towards the end we are given a glimpse perhaps at her true feelings towards the people of her country and thus further sympathize with the unfortunate situation she’s been placed in.

      Marie Antoinette reminded me of a couple films, namely last year’s fantastic The New World. Sofia’s film has much in common with Terrence Malick’s epic, not only in its restrained amount of dialogue and passive and beautiful cinematography, but also in its main character’s development. Both female, they have to deal with their finding themselves while dealing simultaneously with other’s preconceived standards. Although the avenues taken by each couldn’t be more different, one chooses spirituality while the other chooses sensuality; both essentially deal with that same personal quest.

      Even in a historical period piece there is no time like the present. This would explain the film’s various connections to the present: it’s mostly post-punk and New-Wave filled soundtrack, the actor’s modern accents and dialogue, the seemingly random inclusion of a pair of Converse All-Stars in one scene. Many, if not most, will complain about this film’s superficiality, claiming it’s without purpose or true meaning. But when a society promotes and sells the shallow and superficial more than anything else what do you expect most women will end up becoming? Today there are more “Marie Antoinettes” than ever (Paris Hilton comes to mind). This film is not about one woman’s life as much as it is about the frivolous female masses our world has and continues to produce. The trick is to break away from the convention. This is where Sofia’s daring cinematic achievement and Marie Antoinette her self find redemption and practical meaning.

      We feel sorry for Antoinette, as much as we feel sorry for those pageant girls at the finale of Little Miss Sunshine. But more than that we like her, or at least I did, and encourage and understand her actions however superficially misguided they might be, eventually envying the small but rich slice of life she enjoyed before her death. What would you do if you were in her chucks?

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Links: - full cast and crew
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