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Marie Antoinette

31 Jul

Marie Antoinette – directed by Sophie Coppola. Historical Drama. 123 minutes Color 2006.

★★★

The Story: A teenage Austrian Duchess becomes the Dauphine, then Queen Of France.

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The richest color registration is offered for our pleasure here, and never fails to beguile and astonish. The costumes fly beyond dazzling, and won an Oscar. The props on all levels, particularly the food, crush us with delight and gluttony. The settings, which include Versailles itself and palaces and parks and pleasances restore us to the worlds of dreams. All of this is fabulous. All of it realizes a peak of excess in Western civilization never surpassed.

Which means vulgar excess. Powdered wigs tower, voluptuous silks drown, ormolu everything blinds.

This vulgarity is toppled by another sort of vulgarity, one which had more energy, the unwashed citizenry of France.

This we know from history books.

What we don’t know is what it was like to live within this excess, but this the film gives us in plenty. We really get a sense of living inside the costume of that court culture.

What we don’t get is inside the people before us. For the actors generally have no sense of period or required style.

With exceptions: one is, of course, the great Judy Davis, who brings the comedy of hysterical rigueur into her Countess de Noialles, the Emily Post of court protocol, Danny Huston as Marie Antoinette’s brother, and Rose Byrne as a lively rascal-friend of Marie Antoinette. But Jason Schwartzman as the King of France has no business being within a thousand kilometers of this material.

And Kirsten Dunst as the Duchess falls into the shallow grave of a script which does not support either the essential comedy of the sexual naiveté of a teenage-inexperienced and sexually-ignorant husband or the dramatic historical consequences when that inexperience ends. She is relegated to her constant smile.

We are also talking about a part here perfect for a young Garbo. Dunst is not a thousand kilometers of that either. She’s just a nice American high-school girl. Essentially there is no part written for her.

For the director has not grasped the necessary relationship between actor and material. We have only the relationship between the actor and the surface filmable splendor through which she moves. The picture is worth seeing because of it. But Monotony is the inevitable experience of it also.

 
 
 
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