Marie Antoinette

>> Monday, August 3, 2009

I love this movie! I could watch it over and over. I'm beginning to wonder why I bothered to send this back this morning. I really could watch it again from start to finish.

I don't know why critics hated it, or half of them anyway. I can't see a reason to hate it. It never was attempting a history via the flashcard approach that many costume dramas do such as The Affair of the Necklace, which fails miserably. That movie took the flashcard approach yet offered no insight into the main character and was a hodgepodge of some scenery at Versailles, terrible acting, Brian Cox and Jonathan Price excepted, and an undramatic plot.

Marie Antoinette may not have a plot, but it does an excellent rendition of the inanities of the courtly life at Versailles, where the Dauphine of France is dressed every morning with members of the court in attendance. Or, as David Edelstein put it, "this is one of the most immediate, personal costume dramas ever made." And those costumes! Always a feast for the eyes along with the 18th century style food that photographs so well and is so prominent. I just wanted to reach out and and grab some.

It's movies like this where I really respect Roger Ebert, because he makes excellent points about the film that others don't even bother to notice.

7. Coppola has been criticized in some circles for her use of a contemporary pop overlay -- hit songs, incongruous dialogue, jarring intrusions of the Now upon the Then. But no one ever lives as Then; it is always Now. Many characters in historical films seem somehow aware that they are living in the past. Marie seems to think she is a teenager living in the present, which of course she is -- and the contemporary pop references invite the audience to share her present with ours. Forman's "Amadeus" had a little of that, with its purple wigs.
10. It is not necessary to know anything about Marie Antoinette to enjoy this film. Some of what we think we know is mistaken. According to the Coppola version, she never said, "Let them eat cake." "I would never say that," she says indignantly. What she says is, "Let them eat custard." But, paradoxically, the more you know about her, the more you may learn, because Coppola's oblique and anachronistic point of view shifts the balance away from realism and into an act of empathy for a girl swept up by events that leave her without personal choices. Before she was a queen, before she was a pawn, Marie was a 14-year-old girl taken from her home, stripped bare, and examined like so much horseflesh. It is astonishing with what indifference for her feelings the court aristocracy uses her for its pleasure, and in killing her disposes of its guilt.
I think I may have to read Antonia Fraser's book, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, because Sofia Coppola has made Marie seem interesting and alive with this film. Something unexpected.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Antoinette's pug, Mops. So cute at the beginning and she's forced to give him up! So not fair. A black pug surfaces later but just doesn't match the earlier cuteness of Mops along for the carriage ride.


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