Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|Featuring||Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Asia Argento, Rip Torn, Molly Shannon|
|Producer||Fred Roos, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Rassam|
Milena Canonero won an Academy Award for the costume design of this film.
“Let Them Eat Cake”
“Marie Antoinette” would have been better titled “Dazed and Confused” or “Clueless in Paris.” In the opening scene, Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) arrives at the border of France only to be ceremonially stripped of her dog, of her clothing, and of her Austrian identity. The loss of identity is the governing metaphor of the first half of the movie. She can no longer be what she was, and she’s not allowed to be what the French want her to be: a queen.
The movie tracks her frustrated efforts to make love to her disinterested husband, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), but her “rebellion,” such as it is, consists of eating lots of chocolates, drinking lots of champagne, and buying lots (and lots) of shoes. Had the movie been titled “Ismelda Marcos” it would have made no difference to the viewer.
It is difficult to understand what Sofia Coppola was thinking when she wrote and story-boarded this movie. Not only is Kirsten Dunst vacuous, but her voice is nasally, flat-pitched, and grating. How can a professional actress not understand how to inflect her lines? Unfortunately, the dialogue and the scenes are vacuous as well. One keeps waiting for something of substance to happen, but probably a third of the movie consists of Marie hanging out with her girlfriends, running upstairs, running downstairs, giggling, and eating still more chocolates.
There are also at least four different scenes in which we are forced to watch the girls (one can hardly call them women) ooh and ah over yards of fabric, shoes, hats, and hairdos. Additionally, we are treated to the decadent spectacle of dogs eating off plates on at least three different occasions, perhaps to remind us that while Marie and company ate cake, the peasants were starving. Unfortunately, we never see anything but silk, brocade, and make-up. Starving peasants are an abstraction that the movie can’t be bothered to visualize.
At one point, her advisor tells her that she has already spent her allotment of 50,000 francs for the month, but Marie nonetheless chooses to dip into her charity budget for garden trees. This could potentially have been a serious moment, but it is treated like every other incident, with no distinguishing tone to give the viewer insight into either the character or the film’s perspective.
Marie is later encouraged by her brother to curb her entertainments and to change her companions. Although she ignores this advice as well, it is seen by the viewer more as the error of a foolish person, rather than as the rebellious action of an intelligent one.
Indeed, “Marie Antoinette” is such a bad movie that one is tempted to think of director Sofia Coppola herself as a type of queen flattered by admirers who are too frivolous or dishonest to tell her that her lavish entertainment is criminal.
In the end, the movie spends a few minutes on the peasants arriving at Versailles to air their grievances, but Coppola purposely keeps them faceless, showing their sharp weapons in stark relief, but never showing a sympathetic shot of an individual. Rather, during these moments of turmoil, we see only the concerned expressions of the king and queen as they bravely await the judgment of fate.
It is a revisionist movie whose judgment of the royal couple is sympathetically expressed several times. When Louis becomes king, he falls to his knees and prays because he says, “We are too young to rule.” When her brother confronts both her and Louis about the lack of movement on producing an heir, he concludes that “The king and queen are blunderers.” Louis plays with horses and likes locks. Marie eats sweets and laughs a lot. They are teenagers in a turbulent world. It’s not their fault. Nothing is their fault.
Ultimately, the movie’s greater sin is that it refuses to take itself or its subject seriously. The French Revolution is the defining event of the modern era, and its repercussions are still being felt in Europe. The creation of a European constitution without mention of God in its 200 pages is a direct consequence of the French Revolution, and yet Coppola couldn’t be bothered to give us a three dimensional portrait of a real and tragic person who lost her life as a direct consequence of the policies that she and her husband oversaw.
Given the opportunity to portray a great, if flawed, woman, Sofia Coppola chose to make her an American teenager. Such a flagrant waste of money deserves a revolution of its own, and viewers are strongly encouraged to not spend a penny on such a travesty of history and character.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.