Originally reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival.
Being here in Cannes, we all know a thing or two about decadence. While we’re working under impossible deadlines, some people are living it up at beach parties. Kind of like Marie Antoinette, which is by all accounts a reflection of today’s consumerist, celebrity-obsessed society.
Yesterday morning’s screening ended with boos. It just didn’t live up to anyone’s expectations of typical, flat period movies depicting the same old story that you read about in history books. The French revolutionaries in the audience expected perhaps to see her beheaded; others wanted more drama and action which, I admit, was missing. But that was the whole point of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, adapted from Antonia Fraser’s controversial biography of the beheaded queen (“Marie Antoinette: The Journey”).
“I wasn’t making a movie about the French revolution. I was making a portrait of the character of Marie Antoinette,” said the director at a press conference following the screening, which her father Francis Ford also attended. “Before I worked on it, she was a symbol of decadence and frivolity.” After her research, Coppola found that the queen of France was a nave young girl who was married off at 14 and who came into being at Versailles, the palace of the “way too much”, a bit like the $40 million this cost to make.
But her portrayal is just that – the decadent, empty lifestyle of the Austrian princess turned French queen aged 19, a spoiled teenager who has nothing to do all day except eat cakes and spend money on shoes and throw parties (Paris Hilton, anyone?), the kind everyone wants to be invited to. Kind of like on the Croisette.
But it’s all just a faade. Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) is actually a bored young wife who has trouble adjusting to Versailles, isn’t even allowed to dress herself and is married to a man who won’t even fuck her. A desperate housewife, so to speak, and a perfect role for Kirsten Dunst, who has mastered the art of blandness. “I could picture Kirsten. She has a playful side and a more deep, substantial side,” explains Coppola. We obviously didn’t see the same movie.
I’ve got to hand it to her though. She sure knows how to pick a soundtrack. It’s a blast from the past with cool ’80s tracks like Bow Wow Wow‘s I Want Candy and New Order to 21st century rock icons The Strokes, giving a punk rock rebellious streak that doesn’t last long – and that’s what we would’ve liked to see from Marie Antoinette: a rebel with a cause, any cause. And I’m not talking about a revolution, as if the queen’s frivolity played no role in the French uprising that ultimately caused her demise.
While the movie has an edginess that borders on pop art, with colorful period costumes reminiscent of Adam Ant‘s Stand and Deliver video, it lacks an emotional depth and leaves us questioning the whole point of this film that gets lost in translation with each ticking minute. If you can’t stand two hours of watching her eat cake, then just stick to the soundtrack.