Marie Antoinette

Where’s the love, honestly? I remember seeing the preview for the Kirsten Dunst/Sophia Capploa production of Marie Antoinette and thinking it was a great concept. You’ve got that whole “royalty as rockstars” thing going on, with a modern soundtrack and a story of cloistered indulgence and opulance. Versailles is very much its own world, shuttered up away from everywhere else, and it abides by its own rules and customs (it’s very Gormenghast in that sense).

The strength of the film is in the first, say half to two thirds of the movie where Marie Antoinette shows up and tries to be “good” without any real sense of how to do that at 15 except please everyone and buy a lot of lap dogs, and then, after three years of talk behind her back, the figidity of her husband, and the loss of her family, goes on a lavish spending spree and seeks to insulate herself from whatever the hell else is going on in the world. Which is what everyone else at Versaille is doing.

I admire films and books that can convey feeling through the use of words and images; feelings are not things that are easily translated. You can’t say “so and so was sad” or show someone being sad, but that doesn’t neccessarily make the viewer/reader *feel* sadness. Good stuff sets up words and images in such a way that you can actually summon up a particlary feeling in the viewer or read: the sense of loss, the desire to bury oneself in excess.

I enjoyed the film; I liked the way that Coppola made sure not to show anything going on outside of Versaille. Versaille is the whole world, the petty court games and snide talking behind others and political games, and knowing that, you can understand why the people inside acted as they did (and, of course, the whole bullshit idea of Versaille was created as a way to keep all the nobles busy trying to curry favor instead of plotting behind the King’s back, and this movie reminds us of why that strategy worked so well).

The trouble is that there seemed to be some kind of self-consciousness on the part of Coppola that made her throw in these half-hearted lines for Marie Antoinette to pretend she’s really interested in poor people and politics. The problem is, there’s so little dialogue and the emotional heart of the movie *so* has nothing to do with the people of France and Dunst delivers these lines so woodenly that they feel like half-hearted additions, like, “I want to show that she’s not an idiot or a total hedonist, but I’m not sure that she wasn’t. I mean, it’s not like she doesn’t *care* about what’s going on, it’s just not part of her world. But, I mean, she’s aware of it. But… um…..”

The actual pacing of the movie starts to suffer about the time she starts having kids, and then there’s the rapid slide to get to the end of the movie and half-hearted attempts to “age” Dunst which are silly and don’t work because it’s not like she really looks old or gains weight or anything. I was wondering how they would pull off the ending, because once she and Louis get in the carriage to flee from Versaille, I recalled that there was several more weeks of tag played between the family and the people of France before they were actually beheaded. What Coppola chooses to do is to show them leaving Versaille the first time, before the mob stops them and turns them back, and there it just sort of… ends.

Sure, it’s a half-hearted ending. She’s supposed to have gotten older and wiser and gotten some kind of conscience by now, but we don’t actually see that journey. The first half or 2/3 I can understand: I understand how a young girl thrown into a foreign court where she’s despised and has a frigid husband can lose herself in the excess. The journey they didn’t do so well in conveying was how she and her husband learned, over time, to hold some sort of affection for one another and for France, which means that in the end, when they tried to just wave their hands and pretend that had happened, I had a tough time believing it.

All that said, I’d recommend this movie. I think Coppola did some great things with the ideas, the emotion, the soundtrack (and there’s also some great stuff in there about how the foreign women gets blamed for everything that’s wrong with the country; ah yes, always blame the woman), and though the pacing’s off and it starts to lag toward the end, it’s really worth it for that daring, breathless run there for the first 2/3.

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