October 26, 2006

Movie Review: Marie Antoinette

Is Marie Antoinette a train wreck or a misunderstood classic? Or perhaps it is something altogether different. Time will tell just where in film history this will fit, even if it is allowed entry. I wasn't sure what to expect, actually, I expected the worst based on the criticism I have heard levied against it. What I saw was an intriguing tone poem of a movie made by a director is toeing the line between eccentric genius and pretentious self indulgence. The resulting film falls somewhere in between the two extremes.

Sofia Coppola took a interesting take with the material. It is always dangerous to tread in the waters of history, particularly if you don't plan on playing by the rules. Marie Antoinette did not play by the rules in her lifetime and Sofia Coppola does not play by the rules when it comes to her life on film. Marie Antoinette is an mish mash of little bits of historical fact and a whole lot of feeling.

I am not terribly good when it comes to history, and I know very little about the real Marie Antoinette, and after watching this filmed version I am not anywhere closer to understanding her. However, I get a distinct feeling of what she may have been like. This is a film of emotion and image, much more than it is a historical document of a life.

We get the outline of her life. A young woman from Austria sent to France to be married to the crown prince in an effort to create an alliance between the two nations. She unexpectedly becomes Queen, and lives a rather extravagent life while the nation becomes poorer and poorer until she becomes a target of the country's underpriveleged.

Kirsten Dunst stars as the young Marie Antoinette. She gives us a young woman married into royalty who is young and vibrant and prone to self indulgence trapped in a world that strictly adheres to a code of conduct and regality to which she does not belong. She instead seeks to cater to her whims, cavorting with a select few and ignoring those who do not interet her, much to the dismay of many around her. At no point Does Kirsten convince me that she is the iconic Queen, but she doesn't have to. What she does is give me the impression of a young modern woman trying to find her way in a world mired in the past.

Sofia Coppola has given us a glimpse into her feelings and thoughts about the doomed Queen. She is more interested in portraying a woman who lives in a world where she does not belong. The world around her knows how to use her but not how to involve her. Sofia has delivered a slice of life in poetic verse showing us a woman out of her element.

Marie Antoinette does not require any prior knowledge of its subject, just as you are not expected to learn of any historical truth or political and societal machinations. It is a fascinating and entrancing film that really held my attention. It was a brave decision to go in this direction. Taking a historical figure and taking the fork in the road away from historical fact and instead travel down the path of impressions and emotions, it may lead to a different truth. The truth where a film can give a different perspective. Rather than thrust the audience into the world of French aristocracy and all of the baggage that goes with it, we are presented with a world which is made in the perspective of the subject. The screen brings a fanciful light to the Queen, a world of fantasy where she tries to remain true to herself.

The direction and set design is fantastic. There is beautiful period architecture and music rubbing elbows with modern trappings, there are no attempts at accents, there is use of modern pop music that may feel stange and out of place, at first, but works on the overall focus of the film.

Bottomline. This a film that seems content with being misunderstood. It is a brave film, it takes chances with history and with the power of the medium. It is the work of a director that is secure in her ability and is not afraid to creep up on that border of self indulgence without ever actually descending down that slippery slope. Give it a shot, you may be surprosed by what you find.

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