Marie Antoinette (12A)
Time Out says
Tue Oct 17 2006Is it possible to make a film that evokes both ‘Barry Lyndon’ and ‘National Lampoon’s European Vacation’? Sofia Coppola has had a decent stab at it. Her schtick in writing and directing this dreamy evocation of the Versailles life of Marie Antoinette is to lean heavily on decor, shoes and various superficial confections and steer clear of chitchat and context. It’s the visual detail of the eighteenth-century setting, of course, that offers a slight nod to Kubrick, while it’s Kirsten Dunst, as the wide-eyed Austrian dauphine, who evokes the cheap end of culture-clash comedy as she rolls her eyes in that oh-so Yankee way at the ridiculous, European ways of the French, at the same time breaking the film’s own convention that the French are played by Americans (Rip Torn brashly as Louis XV, Jason Schwartzman ineffectually as the dauphin) and the Austrians by Brits (Marianne Faithfull disastrously as Antoinette’s mother, Steve Coogan passably as the Austrian ambassador).
The film that most comes to mind when wondering where Coppola went wrong with this grand folly of style over substance is Gus Van Sant’s ‘Last Days’. Both films share the tragedy of a youngster caged by a public role, a bold lack of interest in facts and exposition and a reliance on silence and mood. But while ‘Last Days’ offered an implied and assured understanding of its hero, neither Coppola nor Dunst demonstrates such intelligence in their consideration of Marie Antoinette. Coppola’s treatment of the dauphin’s inability to consummate his marriage – the elephant in the bedroom – verges on the comedic, so denying any real pain: the one scene in which we witness Antoinette break down in tears behind closed doors is followed by a negating and brash montage of classy shoes and pretty cakes. Moments such as these confirm that Coppola is evading the issue of biography and indulging instead in the trappings of a social scene. The music might be a hoot (Gang of Four, New Order, Bow Wow Wow), but the soundtrack – like the distracting costumes, cakes and production design – does everything to stress the youthful decadence of the French court and nothing to throw any light on the woman who gives the film its name. All of which is hip – but never history.
Author: Dave Calhoun
Fri Oct 20, 2006