2006, PG-13, 123 min. Directed by Sofia Coppola. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, Judy Davis, Asia Argento, Marianne Faithfull, Danny Huston, Molly Shannon, Steve Coogan, Rose Byrne, Shirley Henderson.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Oct. 20, 2006
“Dear God, guide us and protect us,” whispers Louis XVI (Schwartzman) upon his coronation, after his father’s death from smallpox. “We are too young to reign.” Thus does writer/director Coppola render the story of his bride, the famous Marie-Antoinette (Dunst), and her court as a sort of 18th-century teenage riot, replete with a shopping montage set to Bow Wow Wow. There’s nothing terribly problematic about Coppola’s anachronistic New Wave needle-dropping, which halts before the Bastille falls and the tumbrels start rolling, but for a simple excess of it. Still, is there a more perfect soundtrack to a forbidden romp between a teenage princess and Count Axel von Fersen (Dior model Jamie Dornan) than “Kings of the Wild Frontier” by Adam & the Ants? Based upon British historian Antonia Fraser’s 2001 biography, Coppola’s script follows the 14-year-old dauphine to Versailles, where she is entirely divested of her Austrian heritage and subjected to humiliating domestic rituals before her court. (“This is ridiculous,” she scoffs to the Comtesse de Noailles – the excellently forbidding Davis – who replies matter-of-factly, “This is Versailles.”) Unable to arouse the ardor of her shy, puffy new husband – he prefers hunting and possibly men, it is rumored, and Coppola makes gentle sport of his strenuous eating habits – she sates herself on the pleasures the palace otherwise provides: finery, champagne, masked balls (cue Siouxsie & the Banshees), gambling, opium, gossip, pastries, opera, and her bucolic chateau. Her indulgences are entirely apolitical, born of youthful hedonism and the frustrated drive to maintain her royal foothold – and a tenuous alliance between Austria and France – in the absence of an heir. Finally, as motherhood transforms Marie-Antoinette into a more sympathetic figure, Dunst transforms, as well – from a callow pleasure-hound whose translucent beauty belies a well-aimed smirk to a grave and haunted woman, dead-eyed, wandering the halls of a empty palace while a mob gathers outside, calling for her head. It’s a fine performance, a true star turn. Don’t fear the film’s early reviews from Cannes, which too often slighted Marie Antoinette for being fluffy (it isn’t, though its heroine is) or ahistorical (it isn’t, though it is contemporary). In casting an all-American Jersey girl and surrounding her with Manolo Blahniks and the Strokes, Coppola draws a connection between her audience (domestically, at least) and the doomed dauphine, who is likewise insulated and distracted from her country’s pointless involvement in a disastrous foreign war that is bankrupting its government and starving its people – and all the while she spends, spends, spends.