Marie Antoinette

Year: 2006
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Sofia Coppola
Producer: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartman, Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Asia Argento, Rose Byrne, Danny Huston, Marianne Faithfull

I expected, like I had with all Sofia Coppola's films, to want to like this film much more than I actually did. Instead I was pleasantly surprised, finding it the most story-driven of her movies. At least, it had more of a story than Lost in Translation and Somewhere, both of which I considered collections of (albeit beautiful) imagery.

The story is a rough biopic of the life of Austrian noble and future Queen of France Marie Antoinette (Dunst) from time of her arrival in France and marriage to Louis XVI to the beginning of the revolution that causes the royal family to flee.

Cinematically and narratively Coppola makes an accomplished and educational biopic despite the liberties you can feel she takes. But as always it's the visuals where she stands out, and this time she throws a strong theme into the mix.

The court and corridors of Versailles are beautifully and lushly rendered as Marie and her friends, peers and rivals drift through a life of riches and plenty with no concerns other than which party to attend. Coppola's direction is as beautiful as the sumptuous surroundings and costumes.

Thematically she seems to be making a statement about how the vacuous, rich youth of today (Lohan Hilton, etc) are nothing new no matter how much we want to attribute them to the age of YouTube and celebrity obsession. Marie is presented through most of the film like a young female rock star or movie star of the day – alternately jostled and positioned with no life of her own, her every action a matter of public record and stifled by tradition and protocol, but at the same time over-catered for and with no chance to develop ambition or endeavour.

While she isn't enduring the humiliating morning protocol to dress her while members of the court look on, her and her girlfriends recline on chaise lounges to be presented with an endless parade of shoes, cakes and material delights, none of them having to lift a finger to work for anything they own.

And all the while, it's the whole kingdom's business that Marie can do nothing to stir her earnest but disinterested husband's lusts in bed so as to produce an heir, adding her most private concerns to the public embarrassment.

The most interesting aspect was Coppola's characterisation of Marie. There are plenty of scenes of her lazing around stuffing herself with glittering trinkets and champagne while the population of France starves, but when she finally bears children she becomes as fiercely maternal over them as you'd expect any mother.

Is Coppola portraying the Queen as a spoilt, privileged girl who's only good quality was the fate of her birth, or a young women far from home and trying to fill her days with noise and colour when her life offers no alternative?

It was an interesting film for an American director to make. If there's one thing mainstream American audiences can't stand it's privilege, much preferring the everyman who becomes a hero with his fists and heart than one born to greatness. I wonder if most of the people seeing it had too hard a time identifying with the rich, spoiled girl who hogs all the headlines when it's an all-too common career path for many young female celebrities today?

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