Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Premise: The story of Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst), dramatizing her arranged marriage to King Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) her growth from Archduchess of Austria to the Queen of France, and her eventual fall from grace during the French Revolution.
What Works: The film takes an interesting approach to one of the most notorious characters in European history. Antoinette is played as a naïve and insulated young woman who comes of age amid a court more concerned with gossip than with the plight of the French people. Dunst captures the awkwardness of the character’s move from Austria to France and the story stays focused on her life in the castle and growth as a woman. Antoinette’s extravagance is contextualized in contrast to her surroundings and it ends up coming off not as narcissism, but as a brave attempt to liven up dull life in Versailles. The soundtrack to the film is interesting as well, mixing classical music with contemporary songs by artists like Bow Wow Wow, The Cure, and The Strokes. This unusual choice of music actually works fairly well and drives the film towards what it really is: a lightly disguised critique of contemporary celebrity lifestyles and the public’s obsession with them. The Marie Antoinette of Sofia Coppola’s film has more to do with Paris Hilton than with Elizabeth I. The film’s focus on the superficial parallels contemporary obsessions with celebrity lifestyles and is a warning to both the public and to the subjects that they hound after.
What Doesn’t: American actors Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman play Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI and do not change their voices with a French accent. While most of the cast members also play French characters they speak with their native British accents. For some reason the old style dialogue tends to sound awkward spoken through an American accent. In some ways it does help sell Antoinette’s ostracism but it also has the effect of snapping the viewer out of the film. Also, although the contemporary music cues work well, it might have worked better if the film had gone all the way with it rather than mixing and matching the two.
DVD extras: Featurette, deleted scenes, Cribs with Louis XVI.
Bottom Line: Marie Antoinette is a smart, highly stylized film. It is flawed but the fresh approach to history is welcome as is Coppola’s critical stab at some of her contemporaries.
Episode: #137 (April 15, 2007)