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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Reel Deal: Marie Antoinette

    I both love and dislike this film. It was a visual masterpiece but historically questionable. Sophia Coppola wanted to make a film that was uncommon, contemporary, and fun. She wanted the viewer to question what they had learned in history class; Marie Antoinette was not a spoiled, oblivious monarch but a misunderstood teenager thrust into one of Europe‘s most unforgiving environments.

    In these respects, she succeeded, but she also failed in many important ways. While it provides a different perspective to the infamous Dauphine, I can’t help but think of it as being too childish and aiding in the further glorification of today’s selfish and reckless rich teenagers.

    The story begins as Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) wakes on the morning she is to leave home for the long journey to, and permanent stay at Versailles. At the border of France and Austria she says goodbye to her friends, puppy, and clothes to be given new. When Marie arrives to meet her fianc’eacute;, a 16 year old Louis XVI, she is dressed in French fashion with all the hope and anxiousness a 14 year old should have. The attraction between them is almost non-existent and this is how it will remain for the rest of their lives together and apart.

    Despite many attempts to seduce Louis XVI, and the great pressure from her mother, Versailles, and all of France, to immediately give birth to a male heir, Antoinette remains childless for more than seven years into their marriage. Overhearing and ignoring the unadulterated gossip while still keeping up appearances during this time and afterwards provides the conflict for much of the film.

    Marie acts even more childish, as is shown by her frivolous shopping sprees and extensive gambling, all the result of psychological trauma from high expectations. Later, she takes on a handsome Swedish soldier to feel better and finally experience pleasure. But as she ages and understands her responsibilities, she accepts them with more maturity.

    The opening music had me tapping my feet and moving in my chair, while the opening credits were in hot pink font. This was no ordinary historical presentation. And then in the blink of an eye, Marie is getting a pedicure and surrounded by cake. This first shot sets the atmosphere for the rest of the film.

    Every scene featuring Marie never fails to show her world through colored frosting and mouthwatering pastries. The efforts of mise-en-scene have gone above and beyond. The color palate that was chosen is a mixture of those used for ballet costumes and feminine 80s wear. Whether the story focuses on Marie’s time at her private chateau, or while following Louis XVI on his hunts, the colors are perfectly natural.

    ‘The idea was to capture in the design the way in which I imagined the essence of Marie Antoinette’s spirit’hellip;So the film’s candy colors, its atmosphere and the teenaged music all reflect and are meant to evoke how I saw that world’hellip;She was in a total silk and cake world,’ explains Sophia Coppola. The soundtrack is a compilation of unimpressive pop with lyrics and well fitting, arranged instrumental scores. The latter didn’t always complement the visual.

    The best feature of this film is how captivating each shot is. The setup, the angles, the colors, the light, the clothing and accessories, the hair and makeup are all perfectly executed. They rapture the senses. It would be impossible to single out a favorite caption because the whole movie is like an animated photo album. The camera spent just enough time following its subject. There is no doubt the director’s vision was understood by her crew and how well they must have worked together. They deserve much praise for their visual product.

    Kirsten Dunst has had a long successful career and her talent has been proven time and again. She is no stranger to period pieces (Interview With A Vampire, Little Women, The Cat’s Meow) but never before had she played a role with this much historical influence. She must have been nervous worrying about both what film critics would write about her performance, and the reactions from historians, who can be more brutal. Fortunately, she did wonderfully.

    Dunst was the teenager and young woman in constant search for fulfillment. She showed the right balance of excitement and sadness. Jason Schwartzman is known for his comedic, nerdy characters, and so his portrayal of the quiet and insecure King Louis XVI was well done.

    With not nearly as many lines as his ‘wife,’ his physical presence speaks for itself. Simply eating his meals, crawling into bed, or standing around is supposed to be played with discomfort, when he is not preoccupied with his own interests. When exercising his power he is soft spoken and fearful of making a decision. Schwartzman was chosen for this role because Coppola believed he resembled a Bourbon. With such a large supporting cast, hiring the right people must have been a time consuming task and the only complaint I have is Molly Shannon’s inclusion.

    Despite the film’s beautiful appearance, I disapprove of how extreme the young royal court’s attitudes were. While it is encouraging to bring life to history’s key figures instead of stiff portraits for the books, I couldn’t help but feel I was watching a very long costume ball.

    Today’s teenagers are given such enormous, unnecessary privileges because their parents protect them from the world and allow them to disregard consequences. Marie Antoinette romanticizes today’s opportune teenage freedom and its mistakes. Children didn’t have such luxury until recently.

    The real Marie Antoinette has such a bad reputation because she was one of the few teenagers who never grew out of childhood or understood the expectations required fulfillment. Whether or not she said, ‘Let them eat cake,’ it is a true reflection of how she was perceived as queen. She must have behaved a certain way or done certain things to have earned her reputatio

    The playtime was frustrating, and made me sympathize with the French peasants. True, they were merely teenagers when married, and spending their husbands’ money for temporary happiness. But it is totally different when you are spending the country’s money.

    Historical narratives can or cannot humanize their subjects. I agree with Sophia Coppola that people have always acted as we do today, but there is a difference between today’s teenagers and those from past centuries. Children were brought up to be adults and now they are given all the time they want to mature.

    I understand that the real Marie Antoinette could have taken her time to adjust to life in Versailles and the people she had to interact with may have been conniving gossips with strong judgments. But throughout the film she was given too much sympathy for her problems.

    Sophia Coppola did an exceptional job and has definitely earned a place as one of the most creative and unique directors. Her visual adaptation of ‘Marie Antoinette: The Journey’ by Antonia Fraser is a colorful spin that yearns to put the monarch in a better light but perhaps pushes the theme too far. Coppola welcomed historians and students to reconsider her heroine and give her a second chance, but does she deserve it?

    The humor is noticed and respected but putting a pair of pastel high tops among the group of shoes was a joke that insulted her ideal. To truly enjoy this film, it would be best not to have knowledge of history, be open to a new interpretation, and not to envy rich and careless youth.

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