' ' Cinema Romantico: Marie Antoinette

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Marie Antoinette

If you knew nothing of Marie Antoinette, knew nothing of her story or her fate, and sat down to watch Sofia Coppola's latest feature you would guess pretty much from the start that Marie is doomed.

She is taken from her homeland of Austria to France where she will marry the dauphin of France. On her journey, she is stopped at the French border where she is stripped, put into French clothes, and has her beloved dog taken away. "You can have all the French dogs you want," she is told. And it's at this moment you realize what's going on. Yes, she's going to be the queen of France but really she's just a 14 year old girl who wants to keep her precious dog, damn it.

Once she arrives at Versailles she meets he who will be her husband, who cowers - hardly able to even look her in the eye. Her mornings consist of waking up to find 47 people in her room, getting dressed for the day and bowing. There's all kinds of bowing. I mean, they must have set aside 3 hours a day in this society just for bowing. She eats a lot. She drinks a lot. She throws lavish parties.

But her primary occupation is attempting to procreate with the dauphin. It's not so much an arranged marriage as it is an arranged procreation. But seeing as how his daily meals and hunting trips hold more importance than his wife, this arranged procreation takes a bit of time. And for this she gets immense pressure from back home in Austria. Not to mention the fact she is not attempting to further the cause of her home country within France.

This is a lot for a girl not yet 2o years of age to handle, don't you think? I'm 29 and I think at this age if I were the dauphine of France I too would be more interested in Parisian opera than politics.

When the current King passes on and the dauphin is made the new king he utters the most telling line in the film, "We are too young to reign." He's clearly not the smartest guy in the world but even he is in touch enough to know this. Yet, they reign anyway.

As the viewer you can see the French revolution coming from several miles away but the characters in the film do not. They are locked away in the world of Versailles. The King receives information from his advisors but has no idea what to do with it or probably what it even means.

Coppola chooses not to show anything in relation to the growing opposition toward the Queen and King. This is the correct decision. The story is told entirely within a contained world, that world being the palace at Versailles. There are scenes set at Marie's countryside retreat but even here we get no glimpse of the outside world - just as the Queen would have no glimpse of it. She is oblivious of the coming storm right up until the end.

Even when the mobs finally do make their way to the palace the people inside its walls don't seem to fully understand what is happening and what will happen. The King is out hunting when he is told a mob is headed for them. Marie Antoinette sits in her nightgown in bed listening to the people outside. They both sit at their dining table as their servants follow the same rituals, right down to the end. Like I said, doomed from the start.

As the title character, Kirsten Dunst is simply fabulous. I long thought she held a potential as a great actress but over the years I have come to see she does have - to some degree - a limited range. But here she is totally within that range and nails it. I don't think there are many actresses who could have accurately captured the young girl Marie Antoinette really was quite like Dunst.

Much has also been made of Coppola using modern music throughout the film but this decision also feels right. Marie Antoinette is from another world and never quite fits in with the French populace. The music underscores this.

The woman sitting next to me commented as the credits rolled, "They didn't even show the most important part." She was, of course, referring to the infamous beheading of our main character. But within the story Coppola was telling it would have been false to show this. Again, it's set within a contained world and once they leave the world the story ends. Plain and simple.

I liked this movie. And I like it more and more the more I think about it. That's always a wonderful thing.

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