Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006)
Sofia Coppola's anachronistic portrait of one of history's most notorious queens, for me, feels like a repeat of the themes the director has explored in Lost in Translation (2003). The film begins with Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) removed from her native Austria to be wed to the prince, and later the king, Louis XIV of France (Jason Schwartzmann). A bored soon-to-be queen is put into focus; inside her carriage carried amidst the vast countryside of Austria only to be stopped in the French-Austrian border where a ceremony awaits her. She weeps as she forgoes her Austrian maids, Austrian dresses, and her Austrian dog --- it's an immature gesture at first, but as minutes pass by and we see Marie Antoinette breeze through a forced home she can't quite claim as her own, we distinguish that the comedic farewell to her Austrian roots boasts a deeper emotional depth rather than pangs of mere premature removal.
Like Bill Murray's character in Lost in Translation who breaks foreign culture-imposed boredom by spending a romantic interlude with another expatriate, Marie Antoinette struggles through the strange customs of the French monarchy. The repetitive cycle of daily procedures and the seeming lack of real human warmth from the denizens of the Versailles palace forces the foreign queen to refashion the uptight customs; she claps after a beautiful opera performance in which the rest of the audience follow. Against the coldness of her royal husband, she finds a passing romantic relationship with a dashing soldier --- yet in the end, remains loyal to her once impotent beau.
Coppola, for certain, isn't interested in history. Other than the richness of the Versailles setting, and the grandiosity of the costumes and sets, the film feels less attached to its narrative than most biopics or historical dramas. Instead of dwelling in events, Coppola turns a sympathetic eye to the notorious queen; spending more time in portraying her youth and humanity rather than historical accuracy. Much has been said of the infamous soundtrack of this period piece; I didn't think much of the soundtrack as modern music never felt out of place in the story of a queen whom Coppola figured to be a modern-day soul garbed in corsettes and gowns. There's a bit overdrowning of the anachronisms as when the young queen delights in modern-day shopping and having a restyling of the hairdo put into action by an annoying "I Want Candy" song. Coppola's experiment seems to turn against her when the threat of the French Revolution starts to figure in the plot. It seems that when Coppola is faced with historical facts, her cinematic re-characterization of the historical figure fails.
Coppola is more ambitious here than in Lost in Translation. Coppola here creates a historical fantasy as against the more intimate modern-day romance of her last feature. She doesn't seek to revise what history has already told us. She actually ends the film abruptly; disallowing her audience to know the young queen's fate. It feels like Coppola has fell in love with her reinvented queen that the real historical figure's tragic end cannot properly fit into the filmmaker's vision. The colors, the cakes and pastries, the shoes and dresses, are for certain, trite and shallow --- but what else is there to evoke from a queen who has nothing else to do but to parade, be pretty and be young? In Coppola's mind, the queen is nothing more than a victim of circumstance; the same way Louis XIV has been forced to bloom faster than the rest when his father dies (he prays to God since he's too young to reign, his king-ship forces him to finally sleep with the young queen to provide an heir). In Marie Antoinette, Coppola removes the personalities from the stories and the history that turned them into the figures that are revered or detested today. Although the feature might not entirely be successful, Marie Antoinette sheds a humanity and an accompanying psychology (no matter how shallow and infantile) to the last queen of France by familiarizing (even to the extreme of bluntly entertaining) modern audiences to the unattractive annals of history.