Like the misunderstood queen the movie is based on, Marie Antoinette, the movie, has gotten a bad rap. It was met with boos at the Cannes Film Festival, blasted by critics and historians for not being an exacting look at the life of the teenaged queen. It may not get the details 100 % right, but if you want accuracy watch the History Channel. Sophia Coppola’s follow-up to the wildly popular Lost in Translation is more of a tone poem, a dreamy biography more concerned with feelings than facts.
As with her two previous films, The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, Coppola once again shows her skill in capturing the youthful perspective of odd circumstances. Just as the Lisbon sisters of Suicides felt alienated by their suburban surroundings and family, and Lost in Translation’s Scarlette Johansson suffered the isolation of an unhappy marriage and strange country, the youthful queen of Marie Antoinette must deal with isolation and rejection, Versailles style.
Brought from her native Austria at age 14 as kind of a “womb for hire” Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) was thrust into a loveless marriage with Louis XVI, the boy king who had no interest in her, and the court of Versailles, a gossipy and cruel place so vicious they make the London tabloid press look like Miss Manners. As Antoinette attempts to acclimate herself to life in the court she embraces the decadence, spending lavishly while her subjects starved. Even her hair reflects her excess. As the film goes on her hair grows from a subdued hairdo to an outrageous bouffant that would make even Kim Jong Il green with envy.
Coppola’s film is luscious. Shot on the world’s most expensive film set—she was the first director given permission to shoot at Versailles—the movie is uncommonly beautiful. More controversially she chose British pop music as the key songs on the soundtrack. Now this is no A Knight’s Tale, a medieval tale where the new wave music seemed out of place and strange. Coppola’s use of New Order and The Cure fit the mood of the piece perfectly. In one stunning scene Marie Antoinette is doing some at home shopping—merchants would bring their most beautiful and expensive baubles to Versailles for her perusal—and as the camera glides over the pink and blue shoes, Bow Wow Wow’s I Want Candy pulsates on the soundtrack. Music and scene mesh perfectly as the ornate shoes look more like bon bons than footwear and Dunst’s youthful enthusiasm is apparent.
Marie Antoinette isn’t strictly a biopic, or history lesson on the French Revolution. Instead it is a beautiful portrait of spoiled youth and the toxic culture of decadence that did her in.