Marie Antoinette

2006, Movie, PG-13, 0 mins

Review

MARIE ANTOINETTE
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Marie Antoinette came to the French court at Versailles an unsophisticated teenager and left, nearly two decades later, a reviled symbol of royal excess bound for the guillotine. The short shrift Sofia Coppola gives the larger political context within which Marie's life unfolded prompted derision when the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, but her focus is clear from the start: Marie's discontents are trivial in the grand scheme of history, but to her they were everything and the movie is about her. Vienna, 1770: The arranged marriage of pretty teenage princess Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen (Kirsten Dunst), daughter of Empress Maria Theresa (Marianne Faithfull), to the shy, unprepossessing Dauphin Louis-Auguste (Jason Schwartzman), heir to the Bourbon throne, seals an alliance between Austria and France. Maria is escorted by Ambassador Mercy (Steve Coogan) to the border of the two countries and ceremonially divested of all things Austrian, even her beloved pug. "You may have as many French dogs as you like," says the steely Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis), who will instruct the newly christened "Marie Antoinette" in Versailles' complex rules of behavior. Alone and stifled by intricate protocol, her every move — from getting dressed to eating dinner — conducted in public, the inexperienced Marie is held responsible for her new husband's apparent lack of interest in consummating their marriage. Her position is insecure until she produces an heir, and Marie makes repeated social blunders, befriending indolent gossips, ignoring matters of state and offending King Louis XV's (Rip Torn) influential mistress, Madame du Barry (Asia Argento). Though she becomes queen, she alienates both her peers and the French public; the combination eventually seals her fate. Dunst's peaches-and-cream prettiness makes playing the young Marie a cakewalk, but her transformation into the beautiful but brittle woman in her thirties who fulfilled her duty as queen when the revolution erupted and she could have gone into exile is acting of a high and subtle order. Coppola positions Marie's retreat into gambling, shopping and parties as a sheltered girl's unfortunate but understandable response to the pressures of enormous responsibility without corresponding power, and her anachronistic use of '80s pop songs like "I Want Candy" to underscore Marie's shopping sprees is obvious but makes its point. Ultimately, Coppola's pastel-colored take on Marie's life is beguiling and annoying in equal measure, of a piece with LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) in its sympathetic depiction of a pampered girl-woman whose unhappiness is no less real for being the pure product of privilege. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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