Every year there’s that one film that is unfairly maligned by critics either for its troubling subject matter (like 2004’s underrated Nicole Kidman reincarnation melodrama Birth) or for its unique style that turns off a lot of people…like the film reviewed below. Sofia Coppola is quickly becoming an auteur you either love or hate. Her Marie Antoinette (adapted from the book by Antonia Frazer) was recently released on DVD after an undeservedly brief run in theaters this past October.
More than a Trifle…, 27 February 2007
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
From its beguiling star Kirsten Dunst to the maddeningly beautiful locales to the visual sumptuousness and “taste” (you almost feel as if you could eat some of the scenery and clothes) of the costumes and art design, Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” is an entrancing and lavish period piece of the highest order.
Many of the early scenes of the Austrian and French woodlands and the palatial splendor of Versailles are cloaked in an almost “otherworldly” austerity, evoking the spirit of Stanley Kubrick’s ultimate costume-drama, “Barry Lyndon.” Later, when our heroine finds some inner piece at the countryside estate she is given as a gift after the birth of her first child, Coppola immerses the viewer in the transcendent splendor of natural sounds and beautiful images that channels the fluid mise-en-scene composition of the best work of Terrence Malick. All of this is tied together by Coppola’s now signature dreamily listless camera play that makes her unlike any other director working today.
In the lead role, Kristen Dunst is mesmerizing. She’s always been a better actress than she’s been given credit for. She’s only previously been allowed to really stretch her acting muscle when she took on the role of Marion Davies in the excellent “Cat’s Meow” and as the emotionally unstable teen in the misguided “Crazy/Beautiful.” Here, without much dialouge, and present in just about every scene, she speaks volumes with her eyes and body language. Coppola only briefly channeled into Dunst’s innate talents in “The Virgin Suicides” and wonderfully fulfills the promise of a fruitful director/actor collaboration that those with a keen eye could divine from their first experiment together.
Of course, those who measure a biopic by its historical accuracies will cry blasphemy at some of the treatment here, most notably the use of new-wave pop music in equal measure with a classical score. Also, the drama of the French Revolution is glossed over spare for the final ten minutes, almost as it it were a side-note in history. The vapidness and decadence of the French Court is Coppola’s focus, as is the alienation of a people from their government, family members from each other, and most importantly a young woman from herself. Though this classic theme of alienation (which permeates many of the great films from Coppola’s father’s contemporaries) seems to be treated here with a softer touch that on the surface paints it as a trifle…the haunting closing scenes of Dunst leaving Versailles behind forever are not without their emotional resonance.
If Coppola delivers us a big hit with her next project, or not too far thereafter…then I suspect in about ten or fifteen years, “Marie Antoinette” will be looked upon far more fondly than it has been thus far. Rightfully its costume design took home an Oscar. If the movie gods smile down upon us, Coppola will have a long fruitful career, and this film will surely be more than just a foot note of her early days.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database
I agree with your comments of the movie, with the exception, that I was looking for more depth in Kristin Dunst’s character (of course, Marie Antoinette), but did not find it. It cannot be overlooked that the costume design was mesmerizing and totally deserving of the Oscar. The cinematography was superb — watching the movie was a delightful visual journey through the life of young Antoinette. The colors and scenery were amazing. What I was hoping more for, however, was the essence of Marie Antoinette in her youth, which I don’t think was portrayed here. There were also parts of the movie that seemed to drag on needlessly. I also wish that Kristin spoke with an Austrian accent, being that Marie Antoinette was originally from Austria and all of her fellow actors/actresses had a European accent of some sort (her “lack” of accent made her stand out too much). With all of this in mind, I would give this movie a rating of a B.
Thanks for the review, David, and for the comment, Lynn Marie. Based on both, this sounds like a very watchable movie, even though not first-rate.
PS: It will be interesting for me to see how Kirsten Dunst, who usually plays contemporary young women, handles this costume role. Hopefully better than Keira Knightley, who I thought was quite decent as a contemporary young woman in “Bend It Like Beckham” and who has been a disappointment in everything thereafter, did in “Pride and Prejudice” (2005). As opposed to the excellent Reese Witherspoon in “Vanity Fair.”
I would give this movie an A just for the beautiful cinematography. Kirsten Dunst has always been an excellent actress. I do believe she could have better prepared for this role. It just doesn’t fit her.
I was reading the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette book offer and the sample reading of this. It is startling how many people including myself wonder if they were her. The world is clearly without enough TRUTH. I can see that thousands of people are deeply concerned with getting this picture of what happened back then accurately. I think stories get told and retold until justice is served. All that matters is LOVE (which is perfect understanding). And we are still working on it as the movie has been so tremendously helpful. Would you believe all the stranded souls out there who can’t claim identity at all yet that were involved and concerned with the times? I heard the subject of geneology has brought in more money than the sex industry which has given me new hope. People really want to know who they are. What makes us so interested in the past? And one thing I know is that it felt so good, back then, and then it was over, and unless we move on it will not create the future lessons and tests we need. People believed in fairy tales, and the castle and it’s parties were worshipped as the good life. People are still doing this…the poor are getting poorer than ever. It’s difficult for them to stay alive. The movie is astounding to me. It’s such a tremendous help, and yet there is so much more work to do. If the industry would look among the poor and employ them, they may find the reincarnations of some of the best and worst, people from back then. The movie is so good but it does not show all, because there are still people who feel super connected to the time, with things to share, who are not found and consulted. They need to interview and advertise harder and gather data on who has a real interest in this, and base their data on evidence of spiritual coincidences over time which has a higher power. Currently they hire people who are obscessed on the issue because they have the time and money to be obscessed. I want the truth in the movies. This woman Kirsten Dunst is absolutely charming, although she steals the show from Louis XVI (whom I have to look up who he is) and he does a darn good job. Enough, to make me chase his identity and give him some credit.
Valerie, I am honestly not sure what you are talking about here, but thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on the movie and other “things.” –DHS
I loved this movie even if it wasn’t historically correct. It was a visual feast. I think the fact that modern music was interspersed in some scenes brought to home the fact that people in that era lived the same games and fantasies that they do today. I believe the main point is that Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI were young and foolish and never properly schooled to be rulers. And it wasn’t until the very end that they realized the mistakes they had made.
I know im a lot late on commenting. The movie was visually stunning. My only complaint is the darn lack of accent!! With Kirsten’s American accent it sounds as if she is making no effort in her role. It’s like they’re not trying hard enough and doing their job as actors. It sounds like she walked off the street and just began reading lines. It sticks out like a sore thumb, especially since everyone else made efforts to manage an accent.
You’re never too late to the party at The Spin!
I would rather have no accent than a bad one. But I agree, there was something lacking with her overall performance…a je ne sais quois, if you will.