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Review: Marie Antoinette

Saturday, October 21st, 2006

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Kirtsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette

Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is simply brilliant. Read on:

Marie Antoinette is a film that some people will enjoy and others will not. But virtually none of them will have any idea how to explain or qualify why. Part of this is due to its strange clash of classic and modern ideas; director Sofia Coppola transforms what would otherwise be described as a costume drama into a subtle dissertation on the vagaries of our too-much-too-soon culture. But at the same time, Coppola’s general approach to moviemaking seems to produce this kind of confusion, or maybe just the stimulating sense that things aren’t quite so easily categorized.

With Marie Antoinette, Coppola proves that she is still one of the most talented, adventurous and exciting filmmakers of the modern era. Like an exhilarating union between Terrence Malick and Baz Luhrmann, she combines the immediacy of contemporary cinema with the studied professionalism and patience of previous decades, creating a masterpiece that is both faithful to its time period and vividly rendered in dimensions that modern audiences will relate to.

Rather than examining the French queen’s life in a strictly historical context, Coppola looks at the trajectory of her experiences in much the same way she did Charlotte’s in Lost In Translation — namely, by exploring the motivations and emotional underpinnings that produce Marie Antoinette’s behavior. Kirsten Dunst (Elizabethtown) portrays her as exactly what she was — a young girl caught up in events she could no better understand than control or change — and gives the film a heroine whose problems feel identifiable. While so many period movies dryly chronicle the broad strokes of so-called “universal” issues, Dunst and Coppola’s collaboration blows the dust off of the entire “period piece” ethos, and turns the historical figure’s travails into something sharp and evocative.

For film fans, Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard will immediately come to mind as visual and overall aesthetic references, but the film shares much more in common with the works of the aforementioned Malick, whose most recent work The New World similarly purported to document a bygone era via atmosphere and emotion rather than historical accuracy. Marie Antoinette is an impressionist’s view of what life must have been like for the teen queen: conjuring the texture of her world and the minutiae of her absurdly regimented daily life, Coppola finds the human truth in Marie Antoinette’s boredom, her loneliness, and eventually, her decadent self-destruction.

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Marie Antoinette movie posters

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