Marie Antoinette - Saved from the Gallows
| I am disappointed in the reaction that some have had to Sophia Coppola’s telling of the life of Marie Antoinette. Famously, it was booed at Cannes and while I was standing in line to buy my ticket, a woman behind me mocked the poster calling it “Barbie at Versailles.”
My first question is, what were they expecting?
The supposed crime that Coppola has committed in the making of this film, is using modern sensibilities to evoke the emotions and references she needs to help us understand her take on the French Queen. She uses rock music, American colloquialisms and an actress whose affect is neither regal nor historic. Kirstin Dunst is not Helena Bonham Carter.
My second question is, why shouldn’t she?
Are her critics trying to argue that a film maker today can somehow escape the limits and worldview of her time and place to be able to accurately represent the life of an historic personality? Are they ignorant of the fact that her audience is going to bring their own beliefs, understandings, rationalizations and perceptions to the film, experiencing Marie Antoinette through their own lenses? Or is it that they are offended by Coppola’s flagrant self-conscious recognition of her own perspective?
Marie Antoinette is a film (and not even a documentary) so the film maker is must recognise that she is constructing something unreal. The truth is found, not in accuracy (which is what exactly?) but through the expression of how Antoinette’s story touched her. She uses modern references to express those feelings and she does so beautifully.
Other than that, Marie Antoinette is a surprisingly traditional film. She isn’t trying to through a lot of cinematic mumbo-jumbo at her audience. Coppola just wants to tell her story. She even gets to film at Versailles, giving her take an even more grounded feel.
Marie Antoinette is also a very personal film. Coppola seems most interested in how it must have felt to be the Queen. Dunst works this remarkably well, bringing this young woman, who never got the chance to be anything else, to life in a manner that makes sense for the character. Her excessive lifestyle is balanced with her vacuous relationships. No wonder her hair had to be so high.
Coppola doesn’t spend time on politics or the revolution. Maybe that’s why the French were so mad. She spends her time focusing on the day to day tediousness and absurdity of the life at court. There is no beheading scene. The tragedy of this film is not her death but the quiet dissolution of her life which takes place slowly over the entire course of the film not just in one crescendo at the end.
Marie Antoinette is not a film to be taken to the gallows. It’s actually quite engaging and refreshing for its honest approach. It’s a damn hot looking film too with just enough sadness to make it poignant and more than enough glee to make it fun.