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Marie Antoinette

Light, Fluffy and Thoroughly Addicting

From its opening credits nostalgic of punk rock via shopping malls, Marie Antoinette seems more like an 80s movie than a period piece on France's most notorious queen. You almost expect John Hughes as a director. However, it's Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides) that is indeed responsible for the writing and directing of this lavish, moody, and utterly stylish masterpiece.

It becomes fairly obvious early on that only Coppola could be responsible for creating a concoction of this kind. Her previous two films were studies in ambiance, tone, luminosity and youthful innocence with music as the catalyst, and Marie Antoinette follows in their footsteps. If you're expecting an epic historical drama, you will be disappointed. The movie is more about tangible glimpses into a kind of lifestyle than anything else. It successfully explores what it was like to be a teenager and a queen all rolled into one.

Kirsten Dunst plays 18th century teen queen Marie Antoinette. She's married off by her mother at the tender age of 14 and spends the rest of her adolescence in the spotlight, so to speak. The spotlight here consists of having a coterie of courtiers waking her, dressing her, watching her eat and even, on her wedding night, watching her climb into bed with her awkward, dumpy husband, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). Everything she does from the moment she sets foot on French soil is watched and gossiped upon, from her sex life to her shopping sprees to her relationships -- much like modern-day celebrities.

The courtiers attend to her like mother hens and catalog her every move like hawks going in for the kill. There are some very nice, anthropological touches exploring the pomp and circumstance of court etiquette revealing its utter ridiculousness, particularly one scene in which it takes up to four people just to help Marie Antoinette put on her underthings and dozens more to watch it all happen. Your hostess through these excursions into court life is the very serious Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis who is exceptional here) who runs the Queen's "household".

With all this other stuff going on, it's no wonder that the Queen has no time for politics, much to the chagrin of Ambassador Mercy (Steve Coogan), dignitary and de facto big brother, who tries at every opportunity to temper the queen and give her a dose of reality along with her champagne. While there is a smattering of political intrigue, the film generally focuses on Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI as human beings rather than scions of the monarchy. That is, human beings that live in unimaginable opulence.

When looking at the acting, some may be steered by the fact that the actors speaks in varied accents. The Queen herself speaks in an unapologetic American accent, along with all the other American actors, which one would think would be glaringly off-putting but somehow works. You are so wrapped up in the costumes and the setting and the music and the beauty that the accents simply don't register as they normally would. Besides words aren't exactly what you're focusing on. Regardless, Dunst is brilliant as a fresh-faced, dimpled young woman with a champagne flush and the giddiness of a perpetual sugar high. In fact, the whole movie could best be described as one big sugar rush. Indeed, there is actually a montage of shots of Dunst and her clique, who all seem to have fantastic chemistry, indulging in both drink and mounds of pastel-colored confections.

While John Hughes would have filmed the entire movie in the Chicago suburbs, Marie Antoinette was filmed largely on location at Versailles itself, creating a genuine atmosphere and decadent backdrop. Sometimes the space feels intimate, sometimes stifling, and at other times sumptuous. Either way, Coppola uses the palace and its grounds to her advantage. She also utilizes anachronistic music to spectacular effect. You wouldn’t think Siouxsie and the Banshees would be quite the right music for a masked ball at what looks like the Paris Opera, but the genius that is Sofia Coppola makes it work. Songs from the likes of New Order, The Cure, Bow Wow Wow and Gang of Four feel like they truly belong amidst all the baroque.

Moreover, they create an effect of universality rather than distance from the viewers. They allow you to picture yourself being be-wigged and corseted and dancing among the aristocracy of Paris itself or romping through the gardens of Versailles. There are moments in Marie Antoinette where you are sucked in and feel like you belong, and that is its beauty. Marie Antoinette isn't just a movie, it's an experience.


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars