Living alone in a crowd, like the heroines of Coppola’s previous films (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation), Antoinette can hardly be blamed for becoming rather frivolous and caught up in the pleasures offered her. She has little or no contact with the outside world, and thus cannot fathom the experiences of the peasants, or the politics of her Austrian family and her new French community. In other words… this film, like Lost in Translation, is probably as much about Sofia Coppola, and her life born into privilege and luxury, as it is about Marie Antoinette.
First of all… I loved it. So far, all of the negative reviews I’ve read have made it very clear that the reviewers were interested in something else entirely… a traditional historical epic, or something more exciting and dramatic and suspenseful.
Those that loved it are busy discussing what Coppola has done: She’s crafted something like a long poem made of images, focusing on the insulated, isolated experience of a girl whose life is almost entirely decided for her by other people.
It’s not action-packed and exciting, because Antoinette’s life probably wasn’t. It’s not full of insight and perspective on the politics and problems in French culture at the time because Antoinette was probably quite distracted by other things. Coppola is, as always, intrigued by a character living in a state of suspension, and thus she frames her film without portraying Antoinette’s famous exit. The guillotine would have distracted us from the point of the movie.
Some of her most subtle flourishes prove that less is, indeed, more. When we see a family portrait, with Antoinette surrounded by her children, and then see the portrait replaced, with one of the children suddenly missing, the impact of the news is even greater than it would have been if these events had been dramatized in detail.
And by filling the movie with musical references to present-day pop culture, Coppola opens up the film as a timeless tale of superficiality, opulence, alienation, and loneliness.
Kristen Dunst gives her finest performance since Interview with a Vampire, saying a lot while saying very little at all. And in an inspired bit of casting, Coppola gives us Jason Schwartzman as Antoinette’s naive and preoccupied husband. And… what’s this?… Danny Huston in yet another movie this year, making the most of a brief appearance. I love this guy more and more with each role.
The most insightful review of the film I’ve read so far was written by Brett McCracken, and I heartily agree with him on every point. While Brett’s already rated it in his Top Ten, I don’t know that I’ll go so far, simply because I felt that Coppola had made most of her quiet observations by halfway through the film, and it felt a bit long, whereas The New World… a similarly subtle and image-focused film… continued to introduce new questions and explore them even in the final minutes.
But I still think that Marie Antoinette *is* one of the most beautiful and poignant works of art I’ve seen this year, and as such will probably remain misunderstood.