Marie Antoinette

It's been a while already since I saw Sofia Coppola's latest. More than a month, according to my filmlog. At the time, I didn't really know what I could say about it that hadn't already been said, in fact, I couldn't even quite tell who I sided with. But after reading this insightful defense of the "new mannerism" in the film and this Bright Lights article on the film as a fashion show (and this is, for once, not meant derogatively), I do suddenly feel inspired. And I'll try to restrict this inspiration to 500 words tops. Starting now.

I like to pose as an intellectual, but truth is, I'm quite shallow. I half wish there was a reverse-gender Beauty and the Geek so I could participate. Like most people, I'll pick up the gossip magazines when I'm at the dentists/barbers/wherever, even if I refuse to actually pay a single cent for the rags, and will vehemently deny even knowing what "Brangelina" and "TomKat" are (and btw, they should inflict some kind of horrendous torture on whoever started the name-meshing trend). As mentioned before, I love those novels with half-clad people on the cover, and though I draw the line at reality TV, I can't tear myself away from those MTV docs about star lifestyles.

At the same time, when it comes to actual art, I'm generally unmoved by whatever's just aesthetically pleasing. I might enjoy my low culture, but I can only appreciate high culture if there's something more to it that just beauty. That's for example why most paintings from the Renaissance leaves me rather cold, but I have a somewhat ridiculous indulgence for modern art. As long as it's doing something surprising, I'm interested, if not necessarily conquered.

This is also why I was wondering about what to think about Marie Antoinette: I didn't know whether I liked it only for it's sheer ingenuity or for something else. Until, that is, someone confronted me about liking this film while simultaneously dimissing 300. After all, he said, Marie Antoinette was just "300 for chicks", with shoes instead of swords, cake instead of blood. Weren't both films just as focussed on style over substance, on mood over meaning?

My answer (after some rumination, and lame protests about how 300 was nothing more than an endless, more or less live-action episode of Dragon Ball Z) was that there were two main differences between the two films: ambiguity, and a sense of self-relativation/irony.

See, one of the things I admire most about Marie Antoinette is not something Sofia Coppola did, but rather something she didn't do: pass judgment on Marie herself. She's been accused of being too kind to the reviled queen, but I don't think she is: the girl she puts on screen is flawed in many ways, just not pure evil like she's depicted in french history. The film can be interpreted both as a condemnation of her shalloweness and as a defence of her innocence. 300? Sparta, good, Iran, bad, pretty much sums it up.

That, and Coppola remembers never to take herself too seriously, and by this she reolutionarises the generally solemn tradition of period films. Among the shoes, there's a pair of sneakers: the shot is short and without emphasis, in fact, it's easy to miss, but if you do notice it it's a nice reminder that above all this is a version of a story without any ambition to depict the one and only truth.

And with that, I'm out of words.