Saturday, June 10, 2006

Film notes: Marie Antoinette

Okay, it's time that we all admit something- Sophia Copploa est une femme auteur! What I mean by this is that not only is she a very good director, but she has her own style. There is a Sopia Coppola style of acting and of pacing. There are common themes to her films. Most importantly, there is a unity of vision to her films. You can say what you want about them, and people are probably going to be divided about this movie when it comes out in the states in October, but her films are geniunely her films.

So, before you watch this movie, ask yourself if you need to watch a movie about the last queen of France that evokes the aimless beauty of Lost in Translation. Because most viewers are very accustomed to historical films that are all plot- the key moments in a figure's life in a power point format. In fact, most modern viewers are unaware that plot is one of the tools of the novel, but not necessarily of film. Films are visual, and they don't necessarily unravel as a mechanical beginning-middle-end. Coppola knows this, clearly, but some viewers are going to be mad at the seeming aimlessness of this film. I was not- I give leeway to the femme auteur! We must always give room for the imagination of the artist. Also, I thought the movie was what a movie should be- a visually stunning roccoco dream- essentially true to the life in question.

In fact, most of the seeming problems with the film aren't actually problems at all given the subject. At first blush, Kirsten Dunst seems miscast as Marie- but, then you realize that the real Marie was actually miscast for the role as well! The gawky 'aw shucks' routine that Dunst does in every movie she acts in works perfectly here because the Austrian was, herself, a naif who absolutely did not fit into the court life. When she stands embarassedly trying to cover her nudity while her courtiers vie to dress her, Dunst perfectly conveys the stunning ridiculousness of court life, and how inappropriate Antoinette was for that life.

In fact, the movie so perfectly recreates court life that it actually takes on the problems of court life. There's a certain aimless ennui to the film- it starts out strong with a focus on the difficulties that Marie and Louis had concieving a child, problems that the movie never notes may have had to do with a physical defect on Louis' part. We understand the great pressure that the couple is under to concieve, and start to see them as the living museum pieces they actually were. The first reel of the film therefore works the best.

But, then the couple has their kids and the movie goes in a different direction. Marie starts to enjoy the glamour of Versailles, and we get a frothy teen fantasy, complete with New Wave songs from the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Strokes. There are even three Bow-Wow-Wow songs on the soundtrack, which is a nice touch since you never hear anything but I Want Candy from them. Admittedly, I Want Candy is in here too, and I have no idea why Coppola didn't include their song Louis Quatorze, which has the chorus "Louis, Louis, Louis do you love me?" But, it's a nice touch, since the band's teenage singer was a bit of an outsider herself.

Anyway, I'm getting distracted. But, then the movie gets distracted too! Coppola leaves the drama of French national politics largely off-camera, which again is appropriate because, for Antoinette, these things really were out-of-sight and out-of-mind. I'm not sure, however, why Coppola' didn't include the Pearl Necklace Affair, which was actually very important in Marie Antoinette's life and played a part in her eventual fate, and really should be here. Also, there could have been more about the years after the crowd removed the king and queen from Versailles. Lastly, we never really understand what Coppola thinks of Antoinette. Was she really an airhead? Or a mistreated woman in an impossible situation? I think Coppola thinks she was both, and perhaps this is correct.

Coppola's technique is understated dramatically and largely visual. Can she do real drama? I think she can, but isn't interested in that right now. Let her experiment; we need more artists.

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