Fit for a queen

Marie Antoinette

Just a small slice of cake for me, thanks.

Just a small slice of cake for me, thanks.

Rated 4.0

Sofia Coppola follows up her excellent Lost in Translation with one of this year’s most adventurous, better looking features. Marie Antoinette won’t score high points with historians and ardent Marie Antoinette fans looking for an accurate depiction of the queen’s life and times. Let them bitch. This movie is beautiful to watch, and Kirsten Dunst makes for an astonishingly good Antoinette.

The film has a fantastic opening, with the 15-year-old Austrian Antoinette being handed off to the French in a forest, a preliminary to her arranged marriage with the future king, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). When Comtesse de Noailles (a sniveling Judy Davis) takes her pug away and strips her of her clothes (everything Austrian needed to be left behind), the young girl is dressed up and immediately transformed into a queen-in-waiting. She weds Louis but soon finds out that fulfilling her child-bearing destiny will be a tough chore. Turns out Louis is more interested in hunting with his boy pals than sex with his new wife.

Yes, much of this film deals with Antoinette and Louis not doing it, and that makes for a strange plot thread. But at least it’s something different from your average historical drama, and it actually gets quite funny. Watching the increasingly frustrated Antoinette endure meals while her royal court leers at her and her inattentive husband devours delicacies is a crack-up.

The film covers 23 years, but it feels like a good 20 of them whip by in something like 10 minutes. (Not a bad thing.) One of the more beautifully shot sequences this year involves Antoinette and her young daughter playing in their garden. It’s in moments like this that Coppola and Dunst imbibe Antoinette with a certain humanity and sympathy, a far cry from the whole stingy “Let them eat cake!” characterizations of the past.

Coppola is still using that dreamy pace most evident in Translation. She has no problems letting the camera linger, and while that suits me just fine, I’ve always had a hard time arguing with those who find her works boring. I think her directorial pacing is justified by the sumptuous visuals she captures, and her films just sort of put a spell on you. She actually reminds me a bit of Terrence Malick, whose The Thin Red Line and The New World received similar criticisms and praise.

Much has already been said about Coppola’s choice to use modern music like The Cure and Bow Wow Wow on the soundtrack. I always find this sort of criticism funny. Nobody whines when directors use classical music in modern settings. How about Kubrick using Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange? But they get all bent out of shape when Gang of Four plays over the opening credits for Marie Antoinette. Coppola and music supervisor Brian Reitzell make some fun choices with the tunes, including “I Want Candy” over a montage of Antoinette indulging in the luxuries of her life. The music helps produce the proper emotional responses, and Coppola makes it all make sense. The risky music choices actually heighten many moments in the film.

I expect that Art Direction and Costume Design Oscars will be hurled at this one. The French government granted Coppola permission to film in the Palace of Versailles, and this certainly contributes to its authenticity. The costumes and makeup are some of the best work you will see in any movie, no kidding. The pastries created for the film will make you stop off at the nearest bakery on your way home. Hell, you might even have to hit up the cookie counter at the movie theater.

In the end, I really liked this one, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns a lot of people off. It’s an effective depiction of an innocent girl getting thrown into something she was in no way prepared for. It’s an enchanting movie laced with sadness because we all know how it ends for the lady.