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Film Review

MARIE ANTOINETTE:
SOFIA COPPOLA AT THE COURT OF VERSAILLES

 

Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette
© Columbia Pictures


 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 18 October 2006Marie Antoinette is neither an historical film nor one possessing any illuminating dialogue giving insight into the history of France. Moreover, Sofia Coppola is not French and nor did she live in the eighteenth century! "Errors" abound, but does it really matter if the inside of the Palais Garnier is filmed when it wasn't built until a century later? Does anyone really believe Coppola didn't know?

On the other hand, Coppola's super-production is an enchanting and lavish portrait of an ill-prepared fourteen year-old girl who was sent to a hostile country to marry a man she had never met. Antonia Fraser's touching biography* which covers the early years of the Austrian princess's life at the Court of France has been closely followed. The film opens with an outstanding scene where the carriage of Marie Antoinette approaching the French border is stopped and the young girl is stripped of everything she possesses, including her friends, her clothes and underclothes, and her beloved pet dog. "You may have as many dogs as you want.  French dogs", she is told.

 
Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette
Photo: © Columbia Pictures

Sofia Coppola then proceeds to paint a totally believable picture of a foreign woman who is denied her identity and plopped down in a foreign country, in this case, Versailles in 1770. Tellingly, the music is resolutely contemporary and, oh surprise, the language spoken there is English.


Judy Davis in Marie Antoinette
Photo: © Columbia Pictures

Marie Antoinette is shown as a light-hearted child who meanders through gardens and courtyards, giggling at the stuffy court protocol as she sips her champagne, wearing dresses and shoes of ever greater extravagance.  The doors of Versailles were especially high to enable the wigs to pass under. An enormous proportion of the budget was dedicated to decor and dress and the film, starring of course the Chateau of Versailles is visually exquisitely beautiful.

 
Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette
Photo: © Columbia Pictures

Each of the fabulous 18th century costumes was so expensive that all taking part were decked out in enveloping plastic aprons from head to toe each time they left the film set to eat. Hah! says the French press, Coppola's hiding the costumes! Not at all. The canny director was economising on potential cleaning bills for splodges of food and truffle sauce. She had to move quickly, too, to get her hands on those costumes before a rival French crew made off with them.


Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette
Photo: © Columbia Pictures

Orgies of pink patisseries and rose petals abound, with croissants and brioches, kuglehofs, fruit tarts and scrumptious large cakes, and  pink macaroons, those luscious little almond cakes à la rose, feather light yet gooey  that only the French know how to make. Most mornings, someone from the set would arrive for an order, said a spokesman for Ladurée, the famous Parisian patisserie store.


Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette
Photo: © Columbia Pictures

A feather floats in the air.... frivolity and sensuality take the place of sexuality as the husband Marie Antoinette was married to proves impotent, on all but one night.   The emptiness of her life is filled with a form of light-hearted escapism.


Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette
Photo: © Columbia Pictures

This is a film with style; it's what a non-French person thinks is French. The whole French luxury industry is there, not only in the clothing, but in the architecture, furnishings and porcelain. 

Not least, the casting was thoughtfully done, with Kirsten Dunst in the role of the Austrian princess, delightful and full of charm, Marianne Faithfull as the dominating Empress of Austria, and Jason Schwartzman as the immature, thoughtless Louis XVI. This is a film made by a director whose love for France shines out at every moment.


Sebastian Armesto, Kirsten Dunst, Al Weaver, Jason Schwartzman, Mary Nighy and Rose Byrne in Marie Antoinette
Photo: © Columbia Pictures

 

*Marie Antoinette: The Journey
by Antonia Fraser
Paperback: 544 pages
Anchor; Reprint edition (November 12, 2002)
ISBN: 0385489498
$16.95

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at Culturekiosque.com

Related CK Archives

  Music at Versailles



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