Marie Antoinette

on October 20, 2006 by Richard Mowe
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For her fluffy-as-candy foray into the life of the young French queen Marie-Antoinette, writer-director Sofia Coppola reteams with her "Virgin Suicides" star Kirsten Dunst to make a formidable creative duo. Shot in Versailles on a budget of $40 million and costumed by the redoubtable Oscar-winning Milena Canonero, the film looks ravishing on the surface. But like the colorful confection the young Royal keeps popping into her mouth, the effect is short-lived and one hungers for more substance.

Marie-Antoinette, the youngest daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, was born in Vienna on November 2, 1755. She married the crown prince of France (Jason Schwartzman, a Coppola cousin) in 1770 at the age of 14 and became queen when her husband was crowned King Louis XVI four years later. She turned into a hate figure for radicals of the French revolution, and became infamous for remarking of poor people with no bread, "Let them eat cake" (although this quote is said to be a fabrication and is not in the film).

Coppola tries to make her one-track idea zing along without becoming bogged down in historical niceties, yet by the end one yearns for more engagement with those revolutionary times raging outside the palace gates. Audiences may feel hemmed in by the lack of material just as the young princess was "imprisoned" by the court -- like a bird in a gilded cage. To underline its modernity of purpose in revealing much about the emptiness of celebrity, the enforced loneliness and sense of isolation, Coppola has chosen an eclectic soundtrack, replacing classical refrains with such contemporary groups as Gang of Four, England's post-punk band.

There are some agreeable performances on the sidelines from actors of the stature of Marianne Faithfull as Maria-Theresa of Austria, her mother; Rip Torn as the rascally Louis XV; and Asia Argento as the lascivious Comtesse du Barry. Undeniably a feast for the eyes and ears, "Marie-Antoinette" a la Coppola at least skirts the pitfalls of the costume genre -- it's not stuffy or weighed down by a sense of its own importance and, in places, possesses an infectious sense of fun. But the feast, however sumptuous, should have had more than just cake. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzmann, Asia Argento, Rip Torn, Marianne Faithfull, Judy Davis, James Dornan, Shirley Henderson, Steve Googan and Rose Byrne. Directed and written by Sofia Coppola. Produced by Ross Katz and Sofia Coppola. A Columbia release. Historical drama. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and innuendo. Running time: 123 min..

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