Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday at the Movies: Marie Antoinette, 2006

Today's Monday at the Movies was inspired by Quaintrelle Life's post on an older Marie Antoinette movie. I wanted to put my own two cents in about a film that pretty much everyone has seen and everyone has something to say about: Writer/Director Sofia Coppola's 2006 film Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst. This is more of an editorial of my personal thoughts about why I love the movie, and my reason for supporting the director's very controversial and non-traditional telling of the story. The screenshot below says it all:

The dauphine tries on shoes with a pair of modern-day sneakers snuck into the shot.

While it may surprise some, the life and tragedy of Marie Antoinette has been the focus of several Hollywood films. One of the most memorable examples is the classic Norma Shearer version from the late 30s (for which the young actress received an Oscar nod). She is a popular subject of documentaries and even holds the position of being one of the earliest shoujo anime princesses in the beloved Japanese animated drama Rose of Versailles and its Takarazuka theatrical adaptations. While I adore the Marie Antoinettes of all these examples, there is something about them that seems...well, stock character-y. She is a caricature of herself almost, and much attention is given to the dramas ruling her life and not-so-much her own point-of-view. Historical pieces become very caught up in authenticity and chronology, so they often feel old. I mean, their subject matter is old, but there doesn't appear to be relevancy to our lives now in them. They play like museums--interesting, often poignant, but still far away from us, hidden behind the glass.

Candy-coated, eye-popping colors makes the story come alive.

Coppola's Marie is so astounding to me because of its tangibility. I can smell the flowers, taste the decadent pastries and bubbly champagne. I get to be inside the mind of the tragic queen, something that I as a fan of Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser (the biography that inspired the film) really appreciate. Coppola chose a palette for her film of bright hues and bolder shades (hot pink anyone?) uncommon in other historical epics--many films of the ilk have a limited, darker palette. In the making-of featurette included on the film's DVD, Coppola says constantly, "No brown!" and "Looks like candy!" In my opinion, using such a vibrant palette really pulls the viewer into the sumptuousness of Rococo Versailles in ways that come alive--the people and places are no longer shadowy monuments of a past dead and gone. They are real--as stimulating to the senses as candy.

The palette is only one unique and controversial aspect of the movie: The story is missing two important historical events. The first is the Affair of the Necklace, and the second is the Revolution and her execution. Many people were shocked that their was no beheading,or why the film ended seemingly abruptly on a shot of the interior of the royal bedchamber torn to shreds. Here's my interpretation: I think Coppola wanted the focus to be on Marie and her most personal emotions, triumphs and mistakes. The Affair of Necklace takes the focus off Marie and easily slides into the drama of Revolutionary France, a drama which I feel that Coppola never intended to focus on in her version of the story. The suffering of the peasant class--while not out of the queen's mind--was not a major concern (unfortunately for her in the end). Her whims, affairs, and heartbreaks are more concerned with Versailles itself--with the monarchy, fulfilling her mother and the old regime's expectations, and making herself happy despite being in the impossible situation of being a teenage ruler of a country. When Marie says "I'm saying goodbye" at the end of the film, it really signals the final change in her character. Removed from her comfort zone and the dramas of her youth, she rides into a world unknown to her but with wisdom and sense of self. If she can't see the guillotine looming ahead, why should we?

Déjà vu: Marie and her palace buddies play milkmaids (left) and Nicole and Paris play farmgirl (right).

Sofia Coppola's version of the story is, to me, extremely fresh and easy-to-relate to. It is really the story of a young girl thrust into the spotlight before she has the maturity and guidance to make good decisions. She is forced to grow up rapidly (as is her husband Louis XVI played by Jason Schwartzman) and publicly, and because of this, she ends up breaking down into escapism and frivolity until her world falls apart. Is it so strange, her story? Is her playing shepherdess at Petit Trianon so very different from heiresses Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie's playing working class girl on The Simple Life? And how many young women in Hollywood--our own glittering and gilded Versailles--have dealt with outrageous scandals or have broken under the pressure of their environment? I can name so many it would be ridiculous to start--for goodness sake, Lindsay Lohan has had her own "Necklace Affair" to name one! Sofia Coppola's film, and indeed, Marie Antoinette's real-life story resonates today with the same power and pull as it did when it did over 300 years ago.

2 comments/comment?:

Papillon Bleu said...

It was a real pleasure to read this.
Ma is one of my favourite films .
I think Sofia Coppola wanted to focus on the youth of MA and not the politics which make it so bubbly and colourful! There is a strong parallel with the woman of the 18th century and the young girls of the 21st century, hence the music. Well...this is my opinion anyway.

Nice to meet you by the way, my name is Patricia but people know me as Papillon Bleu.

beata-beatrixx said...

@Papillon Bleu: Thank you! I really love this version of MA for the same reason. BTW-Love your original dolls! I collect (though finances have kept me from doing so in recent years), so it's always wonderful to see lovely doll creations <3