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Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

Director:Sofia Coppola
Cast:Kirsten Dunst, Marianne Faithfull, Steve Coogan, Judy Davis, Jason Schwartzman
Release Date:2006
Genre:Drama, Biography

By Bret McCabe | Posted 2/14/2007

Sofia Coppola knows atmosphere. Both 1999's The Virgin Suicides and 2003's Lost in Translation were infused with an indelible mood and temperament, which has default come to be recognized as her directorial touch. She wisely trusts cinematographer Lance Accord (who also shot Translation) to give her movies an unmistakable, unfussy look using available lighting. The straightforward approach to the picture-taking--something about her casual camera setup choices makes her imagery feel almost like candid snapshots--allows Coppola's preference for long takes to accrue some ephemeral significance.

That almost ghostlike style is what gives Marie Antoinette its elusive, almost insubstantial pleasure. Coppola envisions the story of the Austrian archduchess become teenaged queen (a wonderful Kirsten Dunst, by turns girly and womanly, childish and churlish, serious and silly in equal measure) as a John Hughes movie, complete with 1980s MTV soundtrack and scads of clothes, shopping, binge drinking and eating, and the absolutely mindless pursuit of pleasure as her husband Louis XVI (a laconic Jason Schwartzman) inadvertently leads his country and people astray. For a movie that takes place anywhere near the French Revolution--and is shot almost entirely at the Palace of Versailles--it's militantly apolitical, preferring to stay inside the head and heart of its titular heroine. That might be part of Coppola's take on this period--that it's hard to demonize children for not having mature good sense.

Such a strategy would feel like amateur revisionist history if Coppola didn't pull it off with such atmospheric flair, particularly in her continued ability to pair pop music with imagery that combines to convey some emotional feelings that her writing, quite simply, can't. A brief jolt of Adam and the Ants' "Kings of the Wild Frontier" adds the perfect unbridled lust to a tryst. The opening minute of the Strokes' "What Ever Happened?" becomes the ideal soundtrack to carnal longing. And Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" scores one of the most ludicrous decadent shopping sprees ever set to celluloid.

THE DISC As with Suicides and Translation, Antoinette has no commentary track. What the DVD includes is an inevitable making-of featurette, two scant deleted scenes, and two trailers: the conventional theatrical trailer and the blithe teaser, which is totally absent of dialogue and voice-over, scored entirely to New Order's "Ceremony," and may be better than any video the band ever made. Best of all, though, is a mock Cribs episode with Louis XVI--Jason Schwartzman in stocking and wig finery--taking his faux MTV crew around Versailles. Shot by Sofia's frère Roman Coppola, it's playfully stupid, and you get the feeling Schwartzman may have spent a few weekend afternoons watching Cribs marathons because his caricature is so spot-on. "Yo, what's up, MTV? It's Louis Sez," he deadpans as he greets the camera. "See that?" he says, pointing to a chandelier. "That's 100 percent crystal--not Cristal. I'll show you that later."

E-mail Bret McCabe

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