Sunday, October 22, 2006

Marie Antoinette: What it feels like for a girl

Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola's third feature, is like a cross between The Virgin Suicides, her first film, and a music video. There's one thing she does really well, which is understand and depict certain critical moments in the life of an adolescent girl: the moment when she realizes her power, and the subsquent moments when she learns, over and over, the limitations of that power, how much in her life is really out of her hands.

It wasn't Marie Antoinette's fault that her husband, Louis XVI, didn't consummate their marriage for seven years--but she is made to suffer for it. Kirsten's Dunst's queen is a kicky young Austrian who runs up against grim reality at the court of Versailles, trapped in arcane and seemingly purposeless rituals in an airless society in which every word spoken and not spoken counts. She copes with the help of sweets, clothes, and a Swedish lover; she accustoms herself to French customs; she playacts life as a well-off shepherdess in the Petit Trianon. The court and the French people blame her for the excesses of the monarchy.

Of course they do, because she's an outsider. The outside is always blamed, and in Sofia Coppola's world, the adolescent or postadolescent female is always the outsider. Marie joins those doomed sisters in The Virgin Suicides and Scarlett Johansson's character in Lost in Translation as women who feel too much and can't or won't do enough to save themselves.

Feeling is something Coppola transmits successfully on the screen. Her visuals are all pastel confectionery, with the help of Laduree and Manolo Blahnik, and do most of the storytelling, along with period music and 80s hits, from bands like The Cure and Gang of Four, as well as a more recent cut from The Strokes. Oddly, the music doesn't jar; although many of the visuals approximate historical accuracy, it's clear from the beginning that what we are seeing is stylized, a director's vision, and it's not difficult to embrace that.

What the film is, is too long. The parties with which Marie amuses herself go on just too long on the screen. She can gamble all night, but we get numb watching her. While the story is told with great feeling, there is little depth--more surface emotion and not much reflection on what it all means, even on the small scale. Marie Antoinette is not for everyone, but if you're willing to jump into the cotton candy, it's a fun two hours that certainly left me intrigued as to what Sofia Coppola will take on next.

No comments: