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Wednesday November 8, 2006 9:00 pm

Marie Antoinette Review: A Masterpiece of Accessibility

Sofia Antoinette

Last week, I sat down to watch the new film by Sofia Coppola, Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman.  I saw it with two friends – both of whom didn’t care for it – and was excited, despite its alleged booing at Cannes.  Aware of this reception, however, I went in a bit wary, but thought, “it can’t be that bad, can it?”  In fact, no it can’t.  This film is excellent.

Sofia Coppola is known for making different films.  I don’t mean that in a snobby, hipster sort of way, but only to say that her films are unique.  It is this unique style that people often stay away from because it tends to be long, slow, and, at times, a bit dull.  But therein lies the beauty of Marie Antoinette.  The film is based on a biography of the young French queen by Antonia Fraser, which means that, while embellished, it follows a distinct time in Marie’s life and the events within it.  Coppola opts to follow this timeline quite religiously and, by doing so, avoids the common over-dramatized film.  I often expected a character to have an unconvincing epiphany or moment of profound emotion practically directed at the audience, but the story remained steadfast; it reminded me of watching ants in an ant farm.  In this way, the film allows the viewer to take in what they wish to internalize, without having things hand-fed to them.

Another wonderful stroke by Coppola is her use of American accents by the main characters.  This struck me as odd in the beginning: why would a director ask her lead actors to retain their native inflection, while every other character is left to speak in a French accent?  The reign of Louie XVI and Marie Antoinette was that of inexperience, youth, and spoil thrust into power.  As I watched, I began to have visions of Paris Hilton becoming the next US president.  Coppola uses this historical dilemma to show us how it mirrors our own society.  Today, the young and rich are idolized for reasons that are rarely clear; they don’t often have talent or wisdom, merely good genes and large pocketbooks.  The film, without this odd but emphatic choice, may have felt too far-removed, as many period films do, from the lives we lead today.  But these characters, walking and talking and acting without much thought, are the same people I see everyday on the news and in tabloids, driving drunk or making a “private” sex tape.

The beautiful scenery – the film was shot in the actual Chateau de Versailles where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette resided during their rule – and lavish costumes are complimented (that’s right, I said complimented) by more modern new wave, post-punk, dream pop, and electronica music, all mixed with classical.  Again, this helps frame the film in a familiar context, allowing the viewer to internalize what is being conveyed on screen by hearing a song that fits into whatever mood is portrayed.  It does feel strange for a minute or two, but eventually becomes so commonplace, you’ll wonder how you ever watched a period piece with period music.

I can’t think of another grossly eclectic film that worked so well.  It brought this story, one of aristocracy and royalty far removed from the world I know, and made it perfectly accessible to me.  Just consider the difficulty involved in making a film about 18th century French politics and history that is not only understood, but is relatable by anyone living in this day and age.  Bravo, Sofia.

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