"Letting everyone down would be my greatest unhappiness."
Written & Directed by:
My rating: 4/5
The notoriously reviled Cannes disaster turned out to be a surprisingly accomplished third film from the wonderful Sofia Coppola. The reasons for the Cannes audience's hatred for it are unknown to me but I can only believe that historical conficts and perhaps inaccuracies caused the uproar. Cinematically, I can't believe an audience could have too much trouble enjoying it.
The film's conceit is to portray the lavish lifestyle of Marie-Antoinette as a hedonistic, punk youthful extravagance. She is not portrayed as selfish and evil, but merely oblivious. She was so involved in the microcosm of Versailles that she was unaware of the social issues going on around her. Whether this portrayal is historically fair or not is the main reason to suspend your disbelief and sit back and enjoy the parade of aesthetics on offer.
The film's soundtrack is composed of contemporary artists from the 1970's to present. With names such as Aphex Twin and Bow Wow Wow, the soundtrack is bizarrely out of place. However, this actually worked far better than it should have. The music was impeccably chosen and stayed away from very recognisable tunes (Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" being a notable exception) so it managed to be reasonably low-profile.
The film's strength lies in it's dreamy elegant visuals. The set and costume design is gorgeous and Coppola chooses to pace the story as painfully slowly as with her other films. This also helps to enhance the dream-like oblivion of the world of Versailles. There is a certain amount of mesmerising intimacy created by putting Marie-Antoinette squarely at the centre of every scene. All perception is from her point of view and her innocent good nature is counterpointed by her addiction to material possessions. Her relationship with her husband is most interestingly handled. They have a practically non-existent sex life and have very little in common but there seems to be a coy, child-like love between them that neither are sophisticated enough to know what to do with.
The performances are fantastic from all involved. Kirsten Dunst handles the task of portraying the 19th Century's Paris Hilton very well. She has the right mixture of childish opulence and soullessness. The role is a difficult one as it is intricate and her character must be revealed through very small gestures. Dunst perfectly captures what Coppola was trying to show the audience.
Jason Schwartzman also deserves a mention for his portrayal of King Louis XVI. Even though it isn't much different to his usual persona, he poignantly captures the man who never grew up but must now control one of the most powerful countries in the world. It works very well and the relationship between him and his wife is suitably squirm-worthy.
Overall, I believe this is a film to be watched for surface pleasures. With barely a mention of political unease, it is certainly not a film of history buffs. It is merely an investigation into a very sheltered but harshly judged girl whose unfortunately high social stature resulted in her very early demise. But for the cinematic beauty on display, for the affecting performances, and for the floating, beautiful screenplay, I think this is definitely one of the best films of the year.