Film Reviews

MARIE ANTOINETTE

By • Oct 20th, 2006 •

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Columbia Pictures presents in association with Pricel and Tohokushinsha an American Zoetrope production
No MPAA rating / Running time: 123 minutes

Extravagant, lavish, and shallow. Coppola knows about dresses and shoes but not about subtext and complex characters. 12-year-old Dakota Fanning couldn’t play “older”?

Writer-director Sofia Coppola (Is it true Coppola’s Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for LOST IN TRANSLATION was actually for an 80 page outline? Is it also true that Bill Murray improvised his dialogue?) loosely based her film on Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette. I read Evelyne Lever’s second biography of Marie Antoinette: “Marie Antoinette, The Last Queen of France.”

As far as I am concerned, Princess Diana wasn’t the first royal to present a son to the world not her husband’s. Did Marie Antoinette have two children with her Swedish lover, Count Axel Fersen, and pass them off as the King’s? Did the French Court notice that the royal children did not look like the homely King?

Lever, like Coppola and Fraser, offers a very sympathetic portrait of her obsession. However, historian Lever does have to mention the persistent gossip regarding Marie Antoinette’s two other children after producing a “legitimate” heir, the Dauphin. Lever mentions that the French Court took note that Marie Antoinette got pregnant twice after Fersen’s visits to France but fails to note if they looked like the handsome Swede instead of the fat, clumsy, uninterested-in-sex King. He did enjoy hunting parties and the company of stable boys.

Marie Antoinette married at 14. Her husband, the future Louis XVI, was impotent and had great difficulty consummating their marriage. It took him seven years! Did he ever, or did he have a stand-in? It was publicly known he couldn’t get an erection. His grandfather, Louis XV (“Apres moi le deluge.”), was a ladies man (his official mistress was Madame du Barry), was enchanted by the adorable Marie Antoinette, and insisted on an heir. Why didn’t he just pay Marie Antoinette a night visit? After finally consummating the marriage and producing a daughter and then an heir, Marie Antoinette’s husband encouraged her life-long relationship with Fersen (just like Prince Charles was rumored to have done!)

I do not agree with Coppola’s rendering of Marie Antoinette as a confused pre-teen thrust into the life of a Queen-to-Be in a foreign land. She was the youngest daughter of sixteen children born to Francis Stephen I and Maria Theresa, Emperor and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. She knew all about royal courts and arranged political marriages. Her siblings were married to foreign royals. Maria Theresa was a brilliant strategist who shipped off all her daughters. Marie Antoinette was brought up believing her destiny was to become queen of France. Upon her father’s death, her oldest brother was crowned Emperor Joseph of Austria! By marrying the future King of France, she could have become a powerful figure in Europe following the example of her mother.

Marie Antoinette was not misunderstood. She was selfish. She bankrupted the French psyche (and treasury) with her extravagance.

Frankly, unlike the revisionists, I prefer Evil Marie.

Now, on to the movie. Dunst as the 14-year old Marie Antoinette? What, French actress Ludivine Sagnier (THE SWIMMING POOL) was too busy? Vincent Cassel wanted too much money? 12-year old Dakota Fanning couldn’t play “older”?

If Marie Antoinette never said, “If they have no bread, then let them eat cake!” (“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”), who was the genius who did?

While the film is gorgeous and the production glorious, Coppola has only produced a lovely portrait filled with vulgar decadence. What actress would play the self-centered, narcissist last Queen of France?

The only reason Coppola ended the film without Marie Antoinette’s beheading is the audience would have cheered.

Writer-director Sofia Coppola sees her Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) as an innocent victim of birth. She’s a kid in a very grown-up world! Marie Antoinette married at 14 to Louis, the Dauphin (Jason Schwartzman) – quite realistic in a time when people did not live long and childbirth was dangerous. Better to be young, it’s less risky. Marrying early was a necessity, especially if the future king needed steering towards heterosexuality.

With the French Court humiliating Marie for failing to consummate her marriage, her decadent lifestyle surely was revenge on her husband’s impotence. But we don’t see that here; instead, she is just a bored teenager with nothing to do but dress up!

While Coppola is creating divine sets and fantastic costumes, the concentration on the rich desserts, fabulous dress-up balls, and pure excess puts the unintentional focus on how uncaring and selfish Marie was. While the film’s sole burden falls on cute, dimpled but vacant Dunst, the rest of the cast is perfect: Rip Torn (as Louis XV), Asia Argento (as Madame Du Barry), Marianne Faithful (as Maria Teresa) and Judy Davis (as Comtessse de Noailles).

Coppola does not dwell on Marie’s lust for Fersten, reputed to have been a handsome, dashing man who spent his entire life devoted to her. He’s dutifully presented here, then he’s gone. Since Coppola loves her Marie, the nasty scandal of the affair of the diamond necklace is left out. Why suggest Marie wanted an exquisite diamond necklace and connived to get her hands on it?

Coppola lavishes attention on the costumes, hair, jewelry, and shoes. Rich desserts are their cocaine. Coppola’s skillful production team, director of photography Lance Acord, production designer KK Barrett, and costume designer Milena Canonero, are fantastic. There are Academy Award nominations in the horizon for all of them.

As for blending rock music with authentic 18th Century French music, didn’t we see this already in A KNIGHT’S TALE?


Credits:
Writer-director: Sofia Coppola
Based on the book “Marie Antoinette: The Journey” by Antonia Fraser
Producers: Ross Katz, Sofia Coppola
Executive producers: Fred Roos, Francis Ford Coppola
Director of photography: Lance Acord
Production designer: KK Barrett
Music producer: Brian Reitzell
Costumes: Milena Canonero
Editor: Sarah Flack

Cast:
Marie Antoinette: Kirsten Dunst
King Louis XVI: Jason Schwartzman
King Louis XV: Rip Torn
Comtessse de Noailles: Judy Davis
Madame Du Barry: Asia Argento
Empress Maria Teresa: Marianne Faithful
Joseph: Danny Huston
Aunt Victoire: Molly Shannon

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