Saturday, October 21, 2006

Let Them Eat Words

Marie Antoinette

Directed By Sofia Coppola
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Steve Coogan, Asia Argento, Rip Torn
Grade: A-

Ever since the first teaser trailer of Sofia Coppola's third directorial effort, 'Marie Antoinette' was released, my anticipation for this film has built and built. Coppola Jr, who has so far churned out one film I love (The Virgin Suicides) and one film I adore like no other (Lost In Translation) once again writes her own screenplay, on this occasion adapted from the book by Antonia Fraser about the doomed 18th Century Austrian Queen of France.

Choosing to be faithful to Fraser's book Coppola abandons much of the political background up to and including the French Revolution in 1789, in favour of portraying Marie's early ascendence from a girl into a woman, confined within the weird and wonderful world of Versailles. Her anachronistic approach to an historic period is fresh and vibrant, bringing alive a lesser profiled era and imprisoning us in the same lavish bubble as her heroine; divulging us with every delicious treat on offer, whether it be the intricacy of a cake, a shoe or a dress.

Consequently, the film may seem unevenly decidated to aesthetic swagger over a more substantative narrative. This complaint is partially warranted, as the film sometimes does tend to become abrupt and self-involved. Coppola's liberal, relaxed filmmaking occasionally allowing the film to feel vacant and awkward.

But this is a minor flaw, for the magic of Coppola as an auteur speaks of experience beyond her tender years. She allows us to view and identify with Marie as the teenager she was, much like Coppola's previous heroines such as Lux in The Virgin Suicides and Charlotte in Lost In Translation. The construction of Marie largely as a victim of her own undoings allows us to feel her pressure to conform and submit, bringing out common qualities that unite her with the social struggles of girls today.

Dunst, having been given the job of portraying an iconic character in her natural state, achieves something great, if not special. Her genuineness as an actress allows her to grasp Marie's fading naivety with both hands, eeking out the charisma of a girl born before her time. A truly enchanting performance.

The most successful element in Marie Antoinette, however, is undoubtedly its stunning soundtrack. In no other historical drama will you see a monarch celebrate their 18th birthday to the distant brilliance of New Order's gorgeous 'Age Of Consent'. A theme throughout the film, Coppola uses a largely 80's punk/post-punk soundtrack to demonstrate the experimental meanderings of youth, allowing the film to flourish into an anarchistic fantasy, almost representative of a phase in your own life. Marie feels like the runaway vision of youth's foolish indulgence, a post-modern symbol of rebellion. Life's own symphony.

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