Movie Review- Marie Antoinette

MARIE ANTOINETTE (123 minutes, directed by Sofia Coppola, starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn)  *** out of 4 stars

In her latest film, “Marie Antoinette”, promising director Sofia Coppola takes a personal look at the life of the controversial female figure of 18th century France. While slightly lacking the development and depth of her landmark picture, “Lost In Translation”, this film is nevertheless a massive undertaking, impressively cast, constructed and written.

Dunst stars in the title role and gives an above-average performance as a woman forced from her home in Austria at a young age to marry a French prince, Louis XVI, who is destined to become King of France. Louis XVI is played with great regard for comedic effect by the incomparable Jason Schwartzman, a brilliant casting decision in my opinion. The normally silly Schwartzman takes on a challenging role as the oddball prince, who has initially little to no interest in his new bride sexually or emotionally. The early part of the film addresses the struggles Marie Antoinette faced by her inability to become pregnant and produce an heir through no fault of her own, as her husband simply refused to consummate the marriage. 

The film is presented more as an examination of Marie Antoniette as an emotionally isolated woman than it is a historical recap of the 18th century French royal family. Elements of history are there, but viewers unfamiliar with this history are likely to find themselves confused by the movie’s final half hour. Why does the majority of the French population dispise Marie Antoinette after she becomes queen? Why is there a revolution? And why are the king and queen forced to leave their Versailles palace? Clues are there and students of history will have no problem with the progression, but I can imagine that other will be lost.

Her legacy, of course, rests in her excessive partying, the misquoted “Let them eat cake” comment, and hereventual execution by guillotine. While the former two are addressed, Coppola interestingly chooses to end the movie well before the executions of the king and queen, focusing instead on a life made no more or less tragic by her death.

Several things jumped out at me as I watched this movie. For starters, the costumes were among the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Additionally, Coppola’s integration of modern music into the soundtrack and modern accents into the dialogue both worked well and aided the movie’s progression. Coppola paints Marie Antoinette as a woman with flaws indeed, but moreover conveys the image of a strong, principled woman who was unjustly scrutinized by a country full of people who she loved dispite never determining the fate of her own role in their lives. The portrait of the isolated female has been a popular theme for Coppola’s films, and here she develops such a character with complexity.

The film only falters by what seems to me to be a hurried climax with little explanation, but perhaps this leaves more open for consideration to the viewer. In my opinion, a lot of development was sacrificed by rushing through some of Marie Antoinette’s most painful personal losses and challenges. Nevertheless, the general consensus at the movie’s conclusion is to feel sympathy for this woman, which is in itself an accomplishment.

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