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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Marie Antoinette - une histoire sentimentale

It's pretty to look at.

That was the comment of the two girls behind us so we quoted them - ourselves we found Marie Antoinette to be a sumptuous tableaux of visual feasts where Sofia Coppola captures fragile moments of life and distills them to their essence.
Sofia Coppola's modern reimaginations of the life of Marie Antoinette is an emotional journey of her growth from princess in Austria to her demise as Queen of France at the side of her husband, the Louis the XVIth. The passage of time of the drama teen queen of France by the age of 19 is seen in and through the expressions in star Kirsten Dunst's eyes. Married off by her mother as a means to cement relations between Austria and the most powerful country in Europe, France, Marie Antoinette is forced to leave Austria at the age of 14, betrothed to the current Dauphin of France, the grandson of King Louis XV. In her eyes, she sees the Dauphin as but a mere boy, which he really is. By day, Marie Antoinette has to endure the ceremonial ways of the French court and at night after their wedding, he falls asleep and nothing happens. Connubial bliss is not forthcoming upon her wedding night or any night for years thereafter. This becomes the repeated pattern. So in between Marie Antoinette has the time of her life at the opulence of Versailles - aside from disabusing the constant rumourmongering and the snide remarks of the court looking for her to bear the future Dauphin, the heir, to the throne of France. After suffering from the humiliation of having been beaten to the punch of bearing a child by her cousin, she lets loose. With her inner circle of friends including the Duchesse de Polignac at the court, to the ecstatic music of Bow Wow Wow 's I Want Candy she is the proverbial kid in the candy store - the shots of her spending ways are sheer artistry - les bonbons are rich and flavourful - just think Babette's Feast taken to another echelon - the dresses are luxurious satin and silk - and wig hairpieces, fans and shoes to die for. The King has given her a retreat Petit Trianon where she escapes from the ways of the Court.

Sofia Coppola contemporarizes the myriad of moods of Marie Antoinette as experienced by teens through using music that expressed the height of reckless partying and rebellious anarchy of youth: the first wave of English punk rock - Bow Wow Wow - Siouxsie and the Banshees' Hong Kong Garden, The Cure ! - and Marie Antoinette is the ultimate party girl - cavorting through the nightlife of Paris at the opera, gambling, shopping - all to relieve the boredom of her life. Her husband goes hunting by day while at night nothing happens between the two which further reinforces the stress plied upon her by her mother the Archduchess Marie Theresa to produce the heir which will cement the relations between France and Austria.

Coppola's cinematography perfectly captures the waiflike moments of Marie Antoinette - the settings of idyllic imagery harkens the Kirsten Dunst world in Virgin Suicides and long sweeping walking in costume shots through the gardens of Versailles are so airily reminiscent of walking in the cherry tree gardens of Kyoto in Lost in Translation.

Marie Antoinette is not a history piece that will teach the the French Revolution but thank god for Steve Coogan as Marie Antoinette's diplomat who provides advice and timely discourse and background for the events. Louis XVI through Jason Schwartzman is seen as a trivial king too young to assume the throne whose indecision about supporting American troops against the British is left to his advisors who counsel him to send the funds to support their revolution while raising taxes on the starving populace of France. While in the beginning of the marriage the Dauphin is distant from the Dauphine the bond between them grows especially with the arrival of their first daughter and Marie Antoinette comes to grow into the responsibility of her position, finally producing the Dauphin, the next heir to the throne.

Marie Antoinette touches upon notable bits of her history for the MTV generation, the bitter rivalry between herself and Madame du Barry, the lover of King Louis XV, with whom she ever spoke but once - the denial that she ever said the famous "let them eat cake" while the people of France were hungering during the drought and bread shortage. As well the image of her extravagant ways as the words "Queen of Deficit" is stamped across a Sex Pistols style portrait of the Queen.

Marie Antoinette is richly satisfying and melancholy sad by the end as she leaves Versailles for the last time in the coach. Her husband asking if she's admiring the trees on her avenue, she replies: "I'm saying goodbye."

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