People have grossly misunderstood Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and what it’s really about.
It seems as if everyone becomes history buffs after seeing this film, calling foul about the lack of accuracy or reliance on textbook research, believing that Coppola should have really buckled down and written about the real trials and tribulations that she went through, rather than ghosting past them, preferring to focus on the feelings and atmosphere rather than the factual accuracy.
And the film is all the greater because of this. People simply watch the film and believe Coppola to be ineffective with her biopic, rather than realizing that she was painting a beautifully timeless portrait of femininity and womanhood and what it means to be a young woman dictated by laws and regulations and exterior pressures.
The 2006 film is a retelling of the complex, iconic and ill-fated Queen of France. The movie takes us through her life, from her betrothal and marriage to Louis XVI at 15 to her reign as Queen at 19 and through the end of her reign and, ultimately, the fall of Versailles.
The first thing that should be noted about this film is just how calculated everything about it is. From the casting, to the music, to the Easter egg shots, it’s all thought out beautifully, especially in the grand scheme of things. Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman play Queen and King, respectively, and both actors are hugely contemporary. Unlike actors such as Keira Knightley or Matthew Goode, they don’t slip easily into period dramas, but the excellent part is that Coppola isn’t asking them to. The point is to signify their contemporary nature because it allows a greater insight into just how much was asked of two very young individuals. We can relate to these characters and their awkwardness, which heightens our emotional investment.
The score is mixed with piano overtures and even remixes of popular songs by The Cure, as well as Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy.” Within doing so the movie becomes more alive than if it strictly stuck to one genre of music. By adding in shots of Converse sneakers sitting amongst a pile of period appropriate heels, it again allows us to feel close to the protagonist.
Despite Coppola being an auteur in her own right, she’s often passed over as one of the contemporary greats, when in my mind, she has just as much right to be called “one of the best” as the likes of Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino – hell, I’d say she’s better. However, where the latter two deal with epic battles, space travel and blood, so much blood, Coppola deals with all things feminine. Marie Antoinette is a pink and frilly movie with visual treats and a lush and rosy palette. It’s a movie that isn’t afraid to embrace the youthful exuberance of its character and allow it to spill across the screen. Coppola allows her movies to showcase flawed, female characters. Her characters are often either put into unknown situations and forced to deal with them (Lost in Translation); affected by the society they live in (The Bling Ring); forced to play older despite how young they are (Somewhere); and, such as it’s exemplified in Marie Antoinette, often times it’s all of the above. In Coppola’s own way, she’s creating movies that showcase the hardships of womanhood in a very passive, naturalistic manner.
Marie Antoinette was never going to be a history lesson, and if you believed so, did you actually ever watch the trailer? It’s merely a glimpse into moments of a woman’s life. We see her make friendships and lose them; travel to great new places only to realize that what she’d anticipated is much different in reality; we see her love, we see her explore and enjoy her sexuality; we see her defeated and devastated as well as flawed and beautiful. I wasn’t watching a biopic; I was watching a very lovely portrait of a woman.