Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA/France/Japan, 2006. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Pricel, Tohokushinsha Film Corporation, American Zoetrope, Commission du Film France, Commission du Film Ile-De-France. Screenplay by Sofia Coppola. Cinematography by Lance Acord. Produced by Sofia Coppola, Ross Katz. Production Design by K.K. Barrett. Costume Design by Milena Canonero. Film Editing by Sarah Flack. Academy Awards 2006. Cannes Film Festival 2006. Gotham Awards 2006. Washington Film Critics Awards 2006.
A rock-music soundtrack and some intentionally anachronistic dialogue make savvy attempts to connect the famously decadent queen who preceded the French Revolution with the socialite celebrities of today. Kirsten Dunst portrays the much-maligned monarch who arrives from Austria barely a teenager and suddenly finds herself bearing the weight of two countries’ fate as the court at Versailles eagerly awaits the heir to the throne that should immediately result from her marriage to the future Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). Her adolescent inability to be a great seductress at so young an age and Louis’ hesitation to live the life of a carnally motivated husband thwart their plans, while outside their bedroom France prepares for an upheaval that comes to a head following Louis’s coronation and the disastrous tax-raising decision to support the American war of independence. Sofia Coppola’s follow-up to her Academy Award-winning Lost In Translation (which was actually written while she was taking breaks from writing this one) is in many ways an inspiring breath of fresh air into a genre generally associated with boredom, and she and cinematographer Lance Acord, who once made Tokyo the most beautiful place in the world, show themselves at the top of their game as visual engineers. Unfortunately, two huge obstacles stand in the way of making this a palatable classic: Coppola’s leaden pacing (the aforementioned soundtrack is a great idea but many of her selections are monotonous), and the subject herself. That Marie Antoinette is a misunderstood historical figure whose youth and personality resulting from a lifetime of privilege and distance from reality caused her self-indulgent life at court is a given, but other than having been a part of an incredibly memorable period in history, there’s nothing particularly interesting about her (there’s a reason why films about the French revolution always have her as a background character and not a key player). She experiences no political awakening or even notable maturity aside from learning that partying isn’t all there is to life, leaving a film that establishes its themes in its first half hour and then goes literally nowhere except further into a sensually pleasing but shallow exposition of lush costume designs. The possible influence of Barry Lyndon (complete with its costume designer Milena Canonero) could be credited with the museum-tour rhythm, but the story here lacks the dry humour that Kubrick constantly had resonating through that film. It’s a shame it isn’t better, especially considering how perfectly cast Dunst is, not to mention the appearance of some unlikely actors (Schwartzman, Molly Shannon, Marianne Faithfull) in a period film, but there’s no getting around it, this film is a dud. Watch it if you want to see the Manolo Blahnik shoes (which truly are gorgeous).