Video Vault: Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette
2006: Sophia Coppola
Rated PG-13 – 123 minutes
Vault Rating: 7

Marie Antoinette, the once queen of France, might be one of the most misunderstood rulers in history. Perhaps she was the first victim of spin.

“Let them eat cake,” indeed.

Sophia Coppola’s Oscar-nominated treatment is a sumptuous feast. Rich in detail, we learn about the French court and its layers of intrigue, stifling rules and social manipulations. So static are the lives of these rich and famous that one could scarcely stand it.

Therefore, as our movie begins, it is wise of Coppola to choose a particular song to run under the credits: “Natural’s Not In It” by Gang of Four.

“The problem of leisure: What to do for pleasure.”

Gang’s post-punk revulsion at the good life makes a marvelous thesis statement for Coppola and paints in the corners of a pretty, decadent picture.

This strikes us as odd at first, but we begin to catch on. The lives we are looking at are lived on the surface. Before long all they can touch is blind, meaningless hedonism. They are easily derided targets for singer John King. They are precisely who Gang of Four are talking about.

As other songs of the post-punk era (That’s 1979 to 1985 for all you young people who think you are edgy but don’t own “Never Mind the Bollocks.”) encroach, we accept this vibe in a way that makes the story better. It gives the film a political point of view that resonates even today. I mean, hey, Bastille Day is coming and kings and queens don’t want to be found at the edge of a peasant’s pitchfork, now do they.

Take one look for relevance at modern American political conventions. The powerful are so insulated (afraid?) from the people they purport to serve that they can only meet behind barricaded walls and barbed wire. Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot?

Coppola’s star, Kirsten Dunst, is often portrayed as a desert. Something sweet and good to eat, for sure, she is the Austrian princess who solidifies Franco-Austrian power by marrying the queer dauphin, Louis XVI (the very good Jason Schwartzman). The film needs an element of humor and it lands smack in Marie’s cold marital bed. The pretty teen Queen to be has been sent to produce an heir for France and Louis, who would rather be off “hunting the stag,” as it were, is hard pressed on this score.

Still, there is some right good shagging in this film.

Background noise is also presented as to historical cliff notes. We find Louis XVI ill-advised by his counselors in supporting the American revolution. Some counsel to be wary of foreign entanglements, but other courtiers see it as a war by proxy with England that must be carried out. That spending, along with the Queen’s lavish spending on the good life, conspire to collapse an economy…

… Which leads us to the revolting peasantry.

Marie Antoinette did have it all. For those who adore shoes, this is a “shoes” movie. If you love wicked costume pieces or punk hair in the original sense, well, let’s just say women’s hairstyles have never since gone so far. There are beautiful still shots herein that will just grab you. One, in particular, is a shot of Marie with a beautiful ribbon accentuating her perfect neck.

Coppola does a nice job here taking what could be a dry historical drama and turning it into a very human portrait of a rather misunderstood young woman. At the same time she makes an entertaining venture of it with lots of confection and lots of sass. A little slice of heaven if you will.

Marie may well have understood John King’s lyric, then, about the price of having it all: “This heaven gives me migraine.” Indeed.

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