There is no film more deserving of the description “pretty” than Marie Antoinette—n.b. soz Wes, you lost out on that one. Aesthetically, Sofia Coppola’s little sugar-coated delight is as gorgeously and gloriously self-indulgent as the woman it portrays, and it is for this reason that the film remains one of the most under-rated of the past decade.
On its Cannes premiere back in 2006, Marie Antoinette was met with a barrage of boos from critics. Its decidedly sympathetic take on Marie Antoinette’s life did not bode so well with those who viewed her as the epitome of greed and as the enemy of the proletariat. On top of that, Coppola’s flamboyant Americanisation of the tale did not satisfy those who saw this revolutionary period as one of tragedy and patriotic sacrifice, and one that should therefore be handled with more sincerity. Obviously, such uptight critics are unaware of the terms “artistic licence” and “personalism”.
The film is, to simply put it, marvellous. It is a fresh piece of period drama that foregoes the staunch stale acting to favour extravagance and modern humour. At no point does it retreat to the stuffiness of other period films, contrarily making a statement of its contemporary approach through its characters (camp personal stylist anyone?), fantastic post punk/New Wave soundtrack and its graceful translation of what we assume to be modern instincts (ethical materialism, teenage angst and libido) into its historic context. Moreover its modernity is manifested in Coppola’s manipulation of time as events are elegantly graced over to allow the audience to draw their own judgements about the story placed in front of them. Hence why one could argue (if one were a historian decked in tweed with a taste solely for factualism and realism) that this film is ignorant of the seismic impact Marie Antoinette’s reign had over a famished France because it never really takes the time to dwell upon its politics, instead focusing on the specificities of Antoinette’s personal life. But, as said before, it is this different and unique approach to Marie Antoinette that makes Coppola’s film so marvellously enchanting.
And let’s just remind ourselves of those pretty pinks and pretty blues and pretty mansions and pretty gardens and pretty dresses and pretty cakes and pretty people… The film is just so undeniably and romantically rich in textures and colours that it’s almost edible. It knowingly fuels the audience’s jealousy with its wide-eyed romanticism and lavishness, thus cleverly challenging the hypocrisy in people’s statements when they declare that the Dauphine was too grandiose—with a lifestyle like hers, in the secluded Versail
les, who would want to listen to the distant, angry rioters when instead you could recline into a chaise longue and have handsome men play stringed instruments for you?! Kirsten Dunst’s romanticised but grounded performance also succeeds in evoking sympathy from the audience, allowing her to swoop the audience up into her arms with her tender portrayal of the delicacy of adolescence and its accompanying naivety. Jason Schwartzman’s hilariously nuanced performance meanwhile offers a warm contrast to the excessiveness of Antoinette’s all-girls posse, and, with its feminine-tinged sets and dress and weak male leads, the film works as a bold feminist statement that challenges the common patriarchal conventions of the period genre--yes, it’s still presented as a man’s world, but it’s a world where men are subconsciously bent to the desires of women.
The film’s charm is no doubt sourced from its overt femininity too, and it takes pride in its fanciful exploration of womanhood. Coppola has given a film that would otherwise be passed off as a ‘chick flick’ a distinct escapist charm that makes anyone want to drink champagne out of coupe glasses whilst watching the sunset in period dress, giving it a broad appeal in spite of its feminine frills. Marie Antoinette may not cater to the traditional historical view, yet Coppola’s interpretation of Antoinette demolishes the strict rendition of the revolution that we are fed by our peers to recreate what one could only imagine as the poetic world that the Dauphine herself believed she existed in. It is at once charming, saddening and blissful—and it is at once one of the most under-rated, unnecessarily condemned and shrugged-off ‘girly’ films of the past decade.