Monday Movies Would Never Say That!
Mom’s in town, so we’ll save Mystery Men, The Pajama Game and District B13 for a later date.
Marie Antoinette — Mom said, “When I went to Versailles, I saw her little village. I thought, what an awful person! But then I saw the movie, I understood it differently — it’s the only place she can go to get away from it all.” This is Sofia Coppola’s method — everything you know about Marie Antoinette, you know about her as the representative of a First Estate that has overstayed its welcome, a parasitic aristocracy whose heads have only the most deservedly tenuous connection to their necks. But why not imagine the young Austrian princess, married into the French royalty at age 14, as a representative from a different country, equally mysterious, equally close and unreachable — a contemporary adolescent girl. (Images, sounds and dialogue seep from our world into Coppola’s version of 18th-century France much like the Coke-bottle or helicopter gunships in Alex Cox’s Walker.)
It feels uncharitable to read this as any kind of apologetics: although the domination and exploitation of the French people are erased from the young princess-cum-queen’s world, when the angry mob breaks through there’s no grotesquerie attached to it, simply an unavoidable event. Kirsten Dunst plays the role no better or worse than any pretty teenage girl–she giggles at court pretensions, passes on mean gossip, feels the pain of knowing she’s a disappointment in the heir-producing department. Coppola swings for the fences with eye candy, far beyond the bounds of historical accuracy. When Jason Schwartzman’s Dauphin becomes King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette his queen, the royal couple don’t rise to the occasion like the Stark children in Game of Thrones–their existence remains just as gauzy and confusion as it would for teenage you or me, until the party ends.
- Movie Magic: Why doesn’t every movie have Judy Davis?
- Screenwriting Tips: As much this is a slow-moving character piece, it still presents a character with clear goals and obstacles, chief among which is the importance of bearing a royal heir (and Schwartzman’s sexlessness). Dunst’s quiet expressiveness moves us through the narrative, but admonishing letters from her mother and interruptions from her right-hand-man the Ambassador (Steve Coogan) clarify the stakes.
- Pot Pourri: One place where Coppola’s method is a little clunky is in the “let them eat cake” scene. The version of Marie Atoinette who pronounces it is a vampy figment with stockings, heels and black-lined lips. But the real Marie’s response afterwards, “I won’t dignify it with a response”, suggests a little too strongly a canny, media-minded pro, not a teenage girl. Also: Try to watch this and not crave macarons.
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