Review: Marie Antoinette - The Guillotine was Never so Missed

 Skrevet av Alexander G. Rubio - Publisert 24.10.2006 kl. 20:03

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{img src=\'\' align=\'right\' desc=\'(Click for larger image)\' link=\'\'}The story, if not history, is as follows: The 14-year-old Austrian princess Maria Antonia (Kirsten Dunst), daughter of Francis I and the Empress Maria Theresa (Marianne Faithfull) is given (as in traded) in marriage as the child bride of the scarcely much older future King Louis XVI of France (Jason Schwartzman) in 1770.

She is uprooted, stripped (literally) of her past, and dropped into the gilded sewer of gossip and back-stabbing at Versailles. Her husband turns out to be a limp noodle whose passion for lock-smithing is so overwhelming that it takes him seven years to get his royal key into the queen\'s lock and, maybe, produce an heir to the throne. So the queen seeks solace in shopping, and gambling, and flirting, and parties, some more shopping, followed by some more parties.

Of course most of us know how this story ends, and quite an ending it is too. The dire financial straits of the French state, the oppression of the people by the nobility and court, and the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers in Paris, set off the Revolution, which was to take the king and queen Marie Antoinette up the steps to the guillotine in 1793.

{img src=\'\' align=\'left\' desc=\'(Click for larger image)\' link=\'\'}But you wouldn\'t know that from watching this film, or that the frivolous queen found some measure of dignity and strength of character, when all was lost. No, Coppola seems to lose interest in the whole thing at moment the unwashed masses suddenly burst onto the scene, for no good reason, to take all the lovely shoes and pastries away.

And those are really the main characters here. Milena Canonero, who did the costumes in Stanley Kubrick\'s period piece \"Barry Lyndon\", fills the screen with dresses even more elaborate than ever present pastries, with shoes, both modern and period, designed for the film by Manolo Blahnik.

Modern, that\'s another, slightly problematic, key word in this production. When the first teaser trailer was released it was a firework of lovely shots from Versailles parties surprisingly set to the music of New Order\'s New Wave classic \"Age of Consent\". It shouldn\'t work, but it did. And the soundtrack is filled with similar anachronistic music by Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow and Siouxsie and the Banshees. But it\'s not done with conviction or consistency.

{img src=\'\' align=\'right\' desc=\'(Click for larger image)\' link=\'\'}The actors also not only speak, but act, like the idle rich of modern day United States. But it only serves to create further distance between the viewer and the story. And while you\'d think that the scenes of parties, pastries and fireworks of the trailer was simply the flashy surface to a film that would dig deeper into the problems and promises of this pivotal time and place in history, you\'d be wrong. It\'s all surface. It\'s all parties, pastries (lots and lots of pastries) and fireworks.

As the film drags on, you try to come up with possible deeper meanings to it, some excuse for the tedious spectacle on screen. It\'s trying to delve into the nature of the superficial, by itself being superficial... Nope, doesn\'t work. It\'s making a parallel to modern times... No, doesn\'t fit either. Damn it!

What is Coppola trying to say? Over-privileged party girls with a fetish for shopping are people too? OK, I\'ll grant you that, in a pinch. But they\'re hardly very interesting people. And it\'s a tough sell to make audiences, outside of a couple of small enclaves, such as Beverly Hills, identify, and sympathise, with this gluttonous airhead.

Coppola has emphatically stated that her ambition was to stay well clear of Masterpiece Theatre territory. But all these anachronisms, tacked on to the world\'s priciest set of a Masterpiece Theatre piece, just makes the strong case for her having dropped the historical setting alltogether and made a film about Marie Antoinette, 21th century socialite. Doing it the other way around, and using the parallels and echos of Ancien Regime France as a bass note underneath the frantic party tune of contemporary jet-set society, might well have yielded interesting, even poignant, results.

As it is, the film quickly becomes as tiresome, shallow, and fundamentally boring, as the characters inhabiting it. Galas, balls and feasts for the eye flits by, to little other effect than a sudden urge for an insulin shot, a quiet room, and an action packed tome on political economy.

{img src=\'\' align=\'left\' desc=\'\' link=\'\'}The fundamental problem is that as a central character, Marie Antoinette had no real redeeming qualities. And the movie lacks the emotional or intellectual insight to work around that fact. Making a movie about say, Winston Churchill, or Cleopatra, or even an introvert like Edgar Allan Poe, you get a bit of a free ride part of the way towards a watchable product. They were fascinating personalities with deep contradictions to be mined for material.

A competent television director, given enough of a budget and halfway decent actors would be hard pressed not to make a decent enough go at it. Making an engaging film about one dimensional simple minded characters, on the other hand, now that takes skill on a whole other level. What \"Marie Antoinette\" reveals, is that Sofia Coppola is not, or at least is not yet, in possession of those skills.

{img src=\'\' align=\'right\' desc=\'\' link=\'\'}The most you can gain from historical revisionism in the case of this royal pop-tart is to arrive at a half hearted, \"Well, she wasn\'t totally horrible...\" And when the only other theme, in a film which steers well away from grappling with the intellectual and historical concerns of the day, is shoes, cake and how marvelous lots of money spent lavishly looks, you get something which actually manages to have even less innate interest than a reality show featuring Paris Hilton confronting the life of the plebs. And that is, in itself, something of an achievement.

Or as a line goes, which could have been uttered in both, \"The chickens are out... Fabulous!\"


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