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Lights, camera and…

by Archives November 8, 2006

Each character in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette inhabits a colourful world. They all don extravagant costumes and jewellery, and the Queen of France is no exception.

Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) is 14 when she is deported to France by her mother, the Queen of Austria, to marry the Dauphin, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). In the opening minutes of the movie , we witness Marie’s initiation into the French court.

“Now you must say farewell to your party and leave all Austria behind,” says the Countess de Noailles (Judy Davis). Even Marie’s adorable pug is taken away from her and she is told she can own many French dogs once established in her new palace – in Versailles.

Marie unenthusiastically learns to live in a monarchy that is both scandalous and deceitful. A dozen or so servants are at her bedside each morning, ready to pamper her. Her first morning as the Queen is amusing. She has many reasons to gaze at her servants curiously and state, “This is ridiculous.” Many aspects of her new royal life seem absurd to Antoinette, but not to those who serve her with dignity.

Coppola is the ideal director for any movie dealing with misunderstood characters. Marie is such a character and she undergoes a complete transformation as the film progresses.

When we first meet Marie she seems like a young autonomous woman, but as time goes by she begins to rely on her servants. A scene in which she picks out pairs of fancy shoes makes it obvious she is spoiled.

Dunst is an actress who is normally cast as the love interest. In Marie Antoinette , she is given an opportunity to exhibit her flexibility as an actress. Not only does she turn in a rather authoritative performance, but she is able to convey deep emotions when needed. In one scene she weeps in a room by herself because, despite her attempts to seduce her husband the Dauphin, each night he refuses to be intimate with her. It doesn’t help that everyone is depending on Marie to give birth to an heir. It isn’t long before she is harshly criticized by her mother and those who serve her in the palace. Her intimate life becomes a major issue for her as well as for the monarchy.

Marie Antoinette is a film which celebrates the joy of living; or, as the French would say, “La joie de vivre “. The film’s strongest quality is that it invites viewers into a different way of life. We learn about Marie’s world as she discovers it. In contrast with a film like Lost in Translation (2003) or The Virgin Suicides (2000) – which also starred Dunst – we don’t feel the magic or volatility of a Coppola picture with Marie Antoinette. Coppola is a clever writer and whatever she has learned from her father, Francis Ford Coppola, has shaped her into an even better director. Her images are lively and Marie Antoinette is a period piece unlike any other produced in recent years. The film is set during the 18th century, but it features music from bands like The Cure and New Order.

Perhaps Marie Antoinette intends to tell a dark story. I assume there is a meaning behind the colourful sets and extravagant d

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