Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Film Nerd: "Marie Antoinette"

“Marie Antoinette” represents Sofia Coppola’s full acceptance as a bankable Hollywood director, with a budget, well, fit for a spoiled queen.

Coppola both wrote and directed “Marie” and for that reason we have something of a director’s script guiding the proceedings; heavy on sumptuous shots and rare locations, but somewhat turgid in the narrative department.

In fact, the scribe doesn’t know why the Coppola clan wouldn’t have wanted to produce his two screenplays, “Signs of Serenity” or “Fool For Love,” which were both bounced out of their Zoetrope screenplay contest with nary a howdy-do around the same time Sofia chose this particular project.

The story is initiated with Marie’s mother, Queen Maria Theresa of Austria, telling her a marriage has been arranged with the young Dauphin (re: prince) of France, Louis, who is destined to become number 16 in a rather unfortunate epoch for him.

It is a shock to see former Mick Jagger girlfriend, Marianne Faithful, play an overweight, dour and aged queen. the scribe still remembers a clip of her in the sixties, sleek as a swan, porcelain, trilling The Stones’ “As Tears Go By.”

Ah time.

The film takes us through Marie’s early shock at the ritualized and extravagant French court, the difficulties with getting Louis to have sex and the geopolitical pressure she endured to conceive.

This achieved, three times over, Marie finally finds her own clique of scandalous countesses and such who spend time with her in the village and palace of Le Petit Trianon; running around barefoot in Valentino dresses, their hair loose, watching the sun come up and doing things their spouses would hardly approve of.

There is never a moment when Marie, or the moviegoer, is provided with a little contrast about what’s going on beyond her magical land.

Lo-and-behold, and much to her surprise, Marie’s decadent existence has become the match to light the powder keg of revolutionary France, and after some back-and-forth’s about “being at the side of the King,” the last scene has the Queen watching the landscape of Royal Versailles pass by her coach window and telling Louis, “saying goodbye.”

Her subsequent detention at the Tuileries and final beheading before a Parision mob are not mentioned even as post script before the credits.

Based on the novel, “Marie Antoinette, The Journey” by Antonia Fraser, Coppola’s film attempts to flesh out the best in the sprightly queen, her youth and playfulness, her surrender to close confidantes in pleasure.

A “costumer” if ever one were made, the director’s camera lingers long on the sprawling lawns and neoclassical gazebos of her peculiar and enchanted domain only to be chopped up with music-video pacing.

Ceremony, pomp and circumstance all appear to have been researched and painstakingly recreated as the film moves from one pretty 18th Century tableaux vivant to another.

That is the “Marie’s” triumph, which, alas, does not extend to the overall pacing and story which seem stuck and suspended in the time of indulgence, treating historical verities with expository mention in the mouths of its characters, but failing to convey the high-stakes passions and drama that were a part of this fascinating chapter of French history.

The soundtrack alternates between minuets plinked out on a harpsichord and pop tracks from ’80s bands like Bow Wow Wow, The Cure, Gang of Four, New Order, and Adam and the Ants. the scribe just doesn’t think this attempt at setting up the Queen and her court as precursors to the modern punks works, but it may very well have played to Ms. Dunst’s fans and loaded the Copolla coffers.

We don’t do box office receipts at highwayscribery.

Rather than picking one thread as a way of conveying many things, many things are instead glossed over for the sake of historical correctness, but nothing truly revealed. Louis XV’s relationship to Madame DuBarry is reduced to a tiff over whether Marie says “hello” to her at court, or not, and then DuBarry is gone. The Queen, “the Austrian,” is subject to the two-faced disdains of courtiers and ladies-in-waiting until one day, she gets up and claps at the opera.

Although inappropriate, everybody slowly follows suit, signaling her newfound influence at Versailles, without a prior example of how Marie might be winning over the stuffy, malicious bunch.

Kirsten Dunst is Marie and it is safe to say she rose to the level of her own mediocrity here; reveling in the kind of behavior in front of the camera that is merely a continuation of her own life, lending no gravity whatsoever to the role, playing the girl raised in a Central European court as a cheeky California girl out for a good time only.

Jason Schwarzman is also miscast as Louis XVI; like Dunst, too contemporary in appearance and projection to render even the shadow of a king trapped in one of history great dramas.

Maybe their understated (shallow?) performances were delivered by design in an attempt to accent the fact they were “too young to govern,” as she notes upon their mutual coronation.

But it’s a little hard to tell.

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