Ryan Owen 30/10/2006
The retelling of iconic but ill-fated French queen Marie Antoinette. From her betrothal and marriage to Louis XVI at 15 to queen consort at 19 and to her beheading in 1793 at the age of 38.
Never one to start a film without making an impression, Coppola launches Marie Antoinette with an exhilarating chunk of jagged guitar chords and rumbling drum rhythm, courtesy of Gang of Four's "Natural's Not In It." The crux of Marie Antoinette is evident in this opening shot where Kirsten Dunst is at her most decadent, getting a manicure while living a life of leisure. This is the third of Coppola's trilogy about young women that are lost in life. The first in the trilogy, The Virgin Suicides is an offering of rebellion, angst and beauty while Lost In Translation focuses on identity and the power of connections.
Marie Antoinette may be a well known story but Coppola chooses the young woman within that story as her focal point, and shies away from the expected political slant. We see Marie stripped of all her identity, most notably her clothing, rendering a shivering and naked Kirsten Dunst - surrounded by piefaced voyeurs - cradling her assets close to her. As with Lost In Translation, Coppola chooses to tell the tale of a young woman growing up. However, there is difference in that Marie Antoinette has to grow up in an inevitably fatal environment that stems every attempt at her connection with another. With this comes introspective shots of gazes and reflections, as well as shallow depth of field and distinct focal lengths.
As with her previous work, this requires interaction from the audience, interpreting these looks and expressions, as everything isn't given to you A LA Jarmusch. This is astute subtle filmmaking at its best, evident from the fantastic use of hues and the art design that reflect the mood change over the narrative arc. Coppola is certainly assuming of an intelligent viewer.
The critiques of Marie Antoinette are quite repetitive, slating it for its historical inaccuracies, its blatant mockery of the bourgeoisie, and its so called ill-fitting soundtrack. This calls to question the reconceptions that people were under prior to a screening. But then again, the trailer did feature New Order wailing and the shots were “arty” and not archetypal period shots, so what gives? Not one to mismarket, Coppola consciously shuns conventions and instead uses the associations she has with the genre. This is reflected in the Badlands-esque exteriors, and the Amadeus-style comedy. By doing so, Marie Antoinette has a distinct style, making Coppola's voice shine. Her artistes help reproduce her vision, Kirsten Dunst in particular, produces a nuanced performance showing remarkable vulnerability so very authentic you can't help but sympathise with her character. In addition, Schwartzman excels as the poker-faced husband. Specifically in the bedroom scenes, you don't know whether to laugh at his ineptness or to weep at the heart-breaking refusal at Dunst's attempt at connecting with him.
The pressures must have been huge for Coppola to give in to make something epic, however she must be commended for directing a small, intimate and heart-breaking film.