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Marie Antoinette
2006

It’s a rare privilege to experience a film not only so spectacularly wrong-headed but, according to the making-of special feature, one that was also exactly what the director was going for. 

Marie-Antoinette is shallowly humanized by stripping her of the propaganda and pop culture baggage, initially leaving a spoiled, undereducated 14-year-old pushed into an alien, suffocating world who seeks refuge in frivolity.  However this lack is quickly and unironically replaced with ill-fitting contemporary baggage, reimagining the child—as she would have been considered in her time, married or not—as an anachronistic teenager mired in a super-sweet sixteen

Other potential humanizing elements during her time in Versailles passed over in favor of clothes, hair and sweets were the deaths of her father and sister, her charity funds, and her growth out of frivolity as a mother, especially nursing her hunchbacked, bed-ridden elder son, who died at 7 of tuberculosis.  In fact her maternal tragedies are summed up by the changing of an official portrait to remove an infant (her second daughter) and a stylized funeral scene, before racing through the last days at Versailles with no foreshadowing that Louis’s decisions not to flee likely cost his family their lives. 

While the previous king does die of smallpox in the film (miraculously infecting no one else), there is no impression of the fragility of life in Marie-Antoinette’s time, even directly among the royal family.  Of peasants and the distance of their lives from hers, there are no hints.  This is a difficult failing for a movie that presents a false picture of the converse-wearing teenage queen.  In this reality, are the peasants revolting because they can’t afford to upgrade their iPod every year?  Are they encased in the fun, pretty bubble as well, or is their reality conversely more horrible than we vaguely remember from high school history, banished from the fun anachronistic royal world?

I suppose they don’t matter.  They can’t be part of the sheer joy of unbridled consumerism, so they have no place in this film, until they are the agent of destruction.

I am left with the impression that it wasn’t Marie-Antoinette who had no conception of the reality outside her privileged life, but the filmmakers.

If the making-of documentary was unbiased, this affect is the result of director Sophia Coppola attempting to make the subject and presentation more personal, “more personal” defined by her father and others as the magic ingredient to quality filmmaking.  Was no one watching the dailies?  Her directing style looked awful…simpering, shallow, and off-putting.  Because I enjoyed Lost in Translation so much, this was a painful disappointment.

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