The Price of Frivolity: Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006)
What’s a young princess to do in a big old palace on the outskirts of
While Lost in Translation was still a modest independent film, Marie Antoinette is the largest production Coppola has had to work with, and the strain shows. Part of the problem lies in the script. How does one condense Marie Antoinette’s life into a film without falling into period piece doldrums? Coppola solves that problem by beginning with Marie’s introduction into the court society of
To avoid any sense of a history lesson, Coppola spices up scenes with music from alternative bands like Gang of Four, Joy Division, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. When Marie decides to turn her frustration with her husband into a serious interest in high fashion and bouffant hair-dos, the soundtrack plays “I Want Candy” as she parties into the night. The opening scene of the film has Kirsten Dunst leaning back as her maid puts on some Manolo Blahnik pumps on her feet as she fingers one of the many chocolate cakes around her. She then winks at the camera, as if asking the audience “Wouldn’t you like to be queen?” For awhile, as Marie has an affair with a young Swedish soldier (Jamie Dornan), the answer is diverting enough, but the film ultimately overdoses on aesthetics at the expense of plot, and the storyline drags in the latter half. Marie figures out how to escape the palace by cultivating the lifestyle of a pseudo-peasant in her villa nearby. She takes care of chickens and milks the cow, but meanwhile the real starving peasants prepare to revolt.
The film has difficulty retaining narrative momentum until the revolutionaries overthrow the Bastille, and then things start to perk up again. As King Louis XVI looks befuddled at increasing roar of the mob in the distance, he and Marie again sit down to their extravagant dinner, but they’ve been living in a bubble for so long, they have no means to adapt. One can see parallels between the French government’s increasing debt and the situation in