Marie Antoinette

I watched Marie Antoinette for the second time last night. The first time, I liked it. Now, I think I even loved it, and found myself defending it rather fiercely to my lukewarm parents.

Yes: it's fluff. Yes: nothing really happens. Yes: it largely ignores the historical context. But Sofia Coppola is really subverting the costume drama here in a fascinating way. The movie might still be about the costumes and the thrill of seeing historic places come to life, but at the same time it is royally disinterested in the significance of the events or being accurate. It's even not really interested in the 'why' of the events, or in fact in what exactly happened.

What it is interested in is putting you there. Right there in the middle. The modern music, 'accidental' sneakers and the relatively modern use of language is not a device to put us at a remove: on the contrary, it forbids us to see the characters just as historical personae, it puts them on our plane. It makes us see Marie-Antoinette as just a girl. A rather shallow, not particularly bright girl, but no different from a great portion of high school girls everywhere, in fact, no different from a great portion of young girls in any time, in any place. Just a girl. It might not sound radical, but by not being a history lesson, by not caring about realism or accuracy, she managed to take a stiff historical character, someone mocked, derided, hated, but never really seen, someone who was only a figure in paintings and history books, and it turns her into a person of flesh and blood. I can't think of another movie that does this, and thanks to this Marie Antoinette is a film worth revisiting not just for the purely aesthetic pleasures that can be derived from it, but also as an investigation into a genre on par with Death Proof.


cjKennedy said...

People who complain that this movie is empty (coughcoughJeffWellscough) Just. Don't. Friggin. Get it.

A movie about emptiness, is not in itself empty.

Every day it seems you can turn on the TV in this country (The US I mean, but probably everywhere) and see a story about a young girl who has been made famous and raised up on a pedestal for no earthly reason and then gleefully torn back down again.

This beautiful movie (one of my favorites from last year) isn't about Marie Antoinette so much as it's about a corrupt, degenerated and sick society on the verge of collapse. It's about the world we're living in right now.

End of rant. (glad you liked it :)

Emma said...

I enjoyed it overall. As a piece of art, it was gorgeous. As a history lesson? Not so much.

Merry Christmas btw! I adore your blog.

Kaj said...

This Dutch review at FilmTotaal pretty much covered my feelings at the time. I kind of liked it, but also found it to be outstaying it's welcome by about an half our, the points you and mr. Kennedy pointed out well made and established before that, and the "mood scenes" started to feel too forced, too contrived. And Dunst never really had enough charisma or presence to pull me in or really convince me. I might also have had a slight problem with such a political figure who played quite an important role in the entire history of western civilisation to be portrayed as just an innocent girl. Still, I find it a very sad fact that Coppola doesn't seem to have a movie in the works at the moment.

Kaj said...

Oh, and mr. Kennedy, we unfortunately do get programs like "My Sweet Sixteenth Birthday" over here in The Netherlands. :(

Hedwig said...

@CJ: I agree, the parallels are there, but I didn't think they were pushed on the story or overly present. But you are right that the movie is as much about Versailles and that oppressive social group than it is about Marie.

@Emma: glad you're still visiting, and Merry Christmas to you to! I think the reason I merely like Marie Antoinette the first time around was because I missed the history lesson, it took me a second viewing to realize how new and somehow brilliant that decision is.

@Kaj: It IS a rather long movie, and that makes itself felt. I do think that sustaining the 'mood scenes' as you call them for such a long time is necessary for the film to achieve the effect it has. But yeah, ten or fifteen minutes less might not have hurt them, I simply can't think of any specific scenes it could do without.

Chuck said...

Well reviewed. As someone who has probably an irrational distate for "costume movies", I found Marie Antoinette to be incredibly beautiful and disturbing, the true re-evaluation of the genre that you describe. This is the best S. Coppola movie so far, it's her least self-conscious and most fully realized. Here's hoping this very talented director doesn't listen to her critics too closely.

Hedwig said...

Thank you Chuck :-)

I'm not particularly fond of costume movies either: I don't dislike them, but I don't particularly seek them out either, and I find they're often a bit too stagy. They're no air in them, and they're often all too clearly things of the past. I'm not sure this is the best Coppola movie (I have a fondness for that scene on the bed in LIT), but she definitely is a director with a very unique sensibility. I can't wait to see what she does next.