Marie Antoinette

Seeing as there seemed to be interest in this one…

Marie Antoinette is a problematic film to review accurately, being as it all depends where you are coming from and what it is you want to see.

Something unusual for me is reading reviews before I write my own but in this case I was unsure I would jot my thoughts down for Coppola’s latest offering and so I have read plenty. In reading I have found confirmation of my earlier point that this is a hard film to review, if endeavouring to cover everything within it.

First and foremost, if you are looking for a film with the quality and charm of The Virgin Suicides or Lost in Translation, then prepare yourself for disappointment, for this is easily the weakest of Coppola’s work so far. However, don’t take that as too big a negative as Coppola on a bad day would outshine most of those working in cinema today, much is the wealth of her talent.

Visually Marie Antoinette is stunning, rich in colours, a directorial masterpiece, with wonderful close-ups, long shots, pan and scan, pretty much anything you can think of. It is a sign that Sofia Coppola, although relatively new in the directorial world has much experience from taking notes in her father’s classes. She knows how to get the best out of her actors and has a wonderful eye for the best shot in every single scene and not just the big picture.

One of the reviews I read mentioned the film as an edible work and I can so see what she (the reviewer) means. Not only are there many shots of colourful cake and exquisite banquets but the characters and sets themselves light up the screen, making it a feast on the eyes as well as giving a desire to indulge oneself in a little munching along with the film.

There is a real sense of sympathy with the main character, although not in any obvious way, as she is vapid, prone to excess, and a brat, reminiscent of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears today. She is, however, a young girl thrown into a situation way above and beyond her and here Coppola has chosen to take on the subject of monarchs just too too young (as no doubt taken up in Antonia Fraser’s book that the film is based on).

Marie is subjected to bizarre court traditions and much is expected of her in a marriage that in the beginning is anything but idyllic. She is constantly blamed for the unconsumated marriage yet we are shown that it is Louis who is more concerned with lockmaking than lovemaking. She is subject to gossip and constant criticism from family and advisors and we wait for the inevitable breakdown that must ensue from this barrage.

Not so, for Marie is stronger than that and chooses to take whatever pleasure she can from her situation, filling up her moments with friends, parties, and immeasurable spending. She does what she can to escape the trappings of the Dauphine, and it is her that will be her undoing.

One strong criticism of the film is that it decides to leave out the whole court case and final beheading of Antoinette. I can agree that this is possibly the most interesting portion of Antoinette’s story, but at the same time feel that Coppola was intent on delivering those moments just before, but mainly in Versailles and so I cannot throw too much extra critiscism her way here.

I can however point a finger when it comes to the whole subject of language, as this became a real bugbear of mine as the film progressed. I am aware that some cannot stand the whole concept of the French speaking English in a film such as this at all, yet that was not my problem. Once I am aware that the French in Versailles will be conversing in English then I can buy that. Even if this means that the English is not only English but heavily American accented English. What becomes a problem for me is then to throw in the odd character speaking English with a strong French accent, before hitting me with the icing on the cake, Antoinette’s daughter.

Out in the garden picking flowers, Marie describes the different plants and flowers, naming colours in the process. Her daughter then replies with a flurry of perfect French that must of confused the hell out of the King and Queen of France, determined as they were to make sure that their children spoke the language of their allies and later rulers of the globe. I had accepted that English was on show here but when this happens it makes me all angry once again and I question the point of it.

Musically the film is brilliant, and I totally disagree with those who mentioned that it has all been done before with A Knight’s Tale and Moulin Rouge. It has, but badly, Coppola on the other hand shows how to meld that music into a film so that it becomes part of the film and to the point where you have no problem accepting it. This was so unlike A Knight’s Tale when the second Queen came on I wanted to throw something at the screen (maybe that was because it was Queen though).

On reflection there has to be some red pen in Coppola’s report card with the comment of ‘could do better’ and ‘try harder next time’ but she shows, as in her previous two that she has an eye for a shot and a wonderful ear for music.

6/10

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About Mark S. Deniz

English teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and blogger. Founder of publishing company, Morrigan Books and imprint, Gilgamesh Press and editor-in-chief for review site, Beyond Fiction. Also cycles, plays floorball, listens to lots and lots of music, reads a ton of books and tries to fit in some TV, film and writing too. View all posts by Mark S. Deniz

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