Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Film Trifecta Weekend Part II: Marie Antoinette

Last Saturday night found me at “Marie Antoinette”, written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Truth be told, I was expecting to hate this film, but I didn’t --not at all. I respect Coppola as a woman and a filmmaker, but on a personal level, I’m not a huge fan of her work. I found, “Lost in Translation” to be largely overrated. While I appreciated the hip soundtrack, and colorful imagery, and found Bill Murray’s performance to be quite charming, I could not abide the protagonist, Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen). Friends of mine rallied on her behalf, touting her search for answers, and justifying her malaise with life, but I found her attitude to be asinine. She was a perfectly healthy, attractive, smart, articulate woman, who was all “woe is me” because her husband had a busy professional career, and she was still searching out hers. All her longing gazes out her hotel room window, and pensive stares at the Japanese cultural phenomenons surrounding her, left me feeling annoyed; I just couldn’t muster up any sympathy for her plight.

There were similar moments of quiet thoughtfulness in “Marie Antoinette”. Only instead of gazing out at an urban sprawl, Marie daydreamed out of the window of her horse drawn carriage. Like “Lost in Translation”, “Marie Antoinette” was a young woman’s coming of age story. But unlike LIT, I actually thought Marie had something to feel gloomy about. True she lived in the royal opulence of Versailles, but she was also forced into a political marriage at the age of fifteen, constantly harassed about producing an heir for the nation, and forced to abide a silly amount of pomp and circumstance on a regular basis.

Sure, I get it, “poor little rich girl” right? But though she lived in the lap of luxury, while peasants starved to death, (which was of course horribly unfair and indicative of the pitfalls of a royal system), –it wasn’t her fault, and her emotional trials were real. Coppola adapted the screenplay from a recent biography of Antoinette, so it seems that historical accuracies were of importance to her. The film had a very realistic tone to it –it looked like everything was shot with natural light, and there was a rawness and grittiness that served up an interesting contrast to the stunning sets and magnificent costumes. For if Marie Antoinette was anything, it was certainly visually impressive. Upon leaving the theatre, my friend said that it was like reading a magazine for an extended period of time, and indeed I felt a bit like I had just swallowed up a September issue of VOGUE in two and a half hours. Kirsten Dunst must have worn, literally, at least a hundred different costumes during the course of the film, while sampling two hundred pairs of shoes.

Adding to the sensation of a visual feast, were the numerous pastries featured in the film. Marie had a tremendous fondness for them, though the film posits that the infamous line of “let them eat cake” was merely a vicious rumor. Whatever pastry chef was hired to design the bevy of sweets consumed by the royal party should win an Academy Award. I got a sugar rush just from watching the film, and my mouth watered at the sumptuous raspberry tarts, strawberry lady fingers, pink frosted cookies, and cherry red cakes. There were a multitude of pretty and pink montages in the film featuring, dresses, shoes, sweets and champagne. I would wager that every twelve year old girl who sees this movie is currently obsessed with it.

The 80’s rock soundtrack added a further layer to this historical portrayal of teen angst, and somehow, worked, even as it was interspersed with the different operatic pieces in the film. You definitely have to give kudos to Ms. Coppola for having her own style and sticking to it. She made many deliberate choices with this film, and the end result was a tone which was disarmingly girly. But for all of it’s refreshing auteurism, there wasn’t much story to go by here. There was little greater historical context in the film, and it insulated itself primarily to the palace grounds, and in turn, the internal grievances and joys of Marie Antoinette. There was not a lot of traditional plotting going on – storylines were brought up but never resolved, characters faded into the woodwork for no apparent reason, and many a scene was put to celluloid merely for the sake of themselves. For all its prettiness, Marie Antoinette was like a meandering walk without a destination. While Kirsten Dunst imbued the character with an earnest sweetness and innocence, I wasn’t sure what sort of journey I had watched her take. Her life endured changes and woes, but the overall narrative stroke, seemed to imply merely, that like anyone else, she had the capacity to acclimate. Though the film spent a lot of time focused on the unconsummated marriage between her and Louis XVI, she finally fathered his child, we saw little private interaction between them. They continued to have more children, but the context under which they were conceived was left unexplored. Marie’s affair with the dashing solider was also left largely unresolved. Did her husband know about it? What did he think of it? What ever happened to the solider? Why did their affair end? How did she feel about it ending? I would have liked to have seen some of these things played out on screen. Sometimes, you need more than a thoughtful pretty face fogging up a window pane to melancholy music.

(Forthcoming "The Prestige"...)


Blogger DoorFrame said...

Jeez, an hour into the movie I was thinking "Well, at least we've sortof got a plot here... is she ever going to sleep with the king?" It wasn't really much of a plot, but it was SOMETHING. And then that happened, and there was still another hour and a half left to go! I kept looking around wondering when the next storyline was going to pick up?

Also, I'm probably stupid here, but why didn't the crowd at the opera at the end clap with her when she was the queen? They did it when she was a mere dauphine. Were we supposed to draw from that the upper crust of french life had turned so severely on their own Queen that wouldn't indulge her a little clap? I had gotten the idea that she had changed the custom about clapping at the theater, but apparently that had only happened that one time and now they hate her SO much they wouldn't give her that despite being so much more powerful than before? It seemed unlikely.

My favorite part of the movie was when the one dumpy looking woman whispered something like "When you will give us an heir" as the Queen hustled past.

I wish someone had let ME eat cake.

6:42 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Haha, I agree with you about the storyline bit. At least the whole consumation of the marriage provided some tension in the story.

I think the idea is that the crowd didn't clap with her because they were pissed at her. They didn't approve of all of her spending, and were trying to make a statement, that she hadn't truly changed the custom.

Don't quite remember that bit with the dumpy woman, but it sounds funny...

3:56 PM  
Blogger DoorFrame said...

By the way, is part three going to be Running with Scissors? Because I hope that it is.

6:15 AM  

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