Watched Jul 01, 2012
Travis McClain’s review:
I picked this for the final week of June in my "You Mean You Haven't Seen...?!" movie group because it was on my personal To See list, I was wrapping up the 2012 DVD Talk Historical Appreciation Challenge and it was streaming free on Crackle. I was partly interested in it because I loved Lost in Translation and wanted to explore more of Sofia Coppola's filmography but largely I was drawn to this because 18th and 19th Century French history is my favorite era.
Where Marie Antoinette succeeds is in its characterization of life at Versailles; a world unto itself. We're overwhelmed by extravagance, absurd protocols, vicious gossiping and above all the sense of complete insulation from the rest of the world. We see nothing that Marie Antoinette herself doesn't see, which prevents us ever seeing the effect of her reign on her subjects. It creates an effect not unlike Night of the Living Dead, only our protagonists are in a much nicer place than an abandoned farm house. Still, we as the audience know what's out there even if the people we're watching don't and it becomes rather menacing.
Surely, some viewers might complain that this doesn't tell us nearly enough about Marie Antoinette or her place in history. It's a fair criticism, and I wonder whether anyone without much understanding of the origins of the French Revolution can really appreciate just what this film represents. It's fascinating all the same, though, in that it devotes its entirety to the parts of her life often glossed over in shorthand: "Austrian princess betrothed to the dauphin...bad fit for the court society...known for self-indulgence..."Let them eat cake"..."
We see that Marie was viewed from her arrival as something of a misfit outsider, and we certainly see her become self-indulgent in what may be the most unexpected use of "I Want Candy" in a film montage ever. At the time, though, it doesn't really seem any more self-indulgent than the entire absurd palace. So Marie likes to stay up all night shooting craps and drinking champagne; how is that any worse than anything else we've seen in the movie? Moreover, where was anyone even introducing into that carefully preserved bubble the mere idea of common sense or the greater good?
It may be too protective of her to say she was set up to fail and that she was entirely a victim, but I do think a case can be made that her mistakes - egregious though they were - were those that may easily have been made by anyone swept up into that lifestyle.
I could go on endlessly about Marie Antoinette, so I'll stop here and merely make a few specific observations about the film unrelated to its subject material.
I loved seeing Rose Byrne and Tom Hardy in supporting roles. If Coppola made this exact film today, those would surely play the leads. It's fun to see the evolution of stars through roles they've had in their careers.
I streamed this on my laptop, listening with headphones and I was blown away by the sound mixing. Coppola used sound design to flesh out the sense of scale and convey the gossiping subculture perfectly.
It's fascinating to me that this was released in 2006, going into the mid-term elections of President Bush's second term as his star lost its power and just ahead of the complete 2008 economic collapse. What an interesting time to be asked to pause and reflect on the life of Marie Antoinette!