****1/2 out of *****
From the opening shot of “Marie Antoinette” when Kirsten Dunst turns to the camera and gives the audience a sly, knowing smile (all while Gang of Four’s “Natural’s Not in It” blares in the background), we know this ain’t gonna be an ordinary biopic.
Much has already been made of writer/director Sophia Coppola’s choice to use anachronisms like hip alternative rock music for the film’s score, but all of this is part of Coppola’s method of getting a modern day audience to sympathize with the fated queen.
The film begins with young Marie traveling to France to become Louis XVI’s bride. The marriage is set up to create an alliance between Austria and France, and has absolutely nothing to do with romantic love.
In fact, Louis (Jason Schwartzman) seems much more interested in stag hunting than his new wife, and as a result, the marriage is not consummated until much later in the film. (In reality, Marie did not give birth to a child until seven years into the marriage.)
Although Marie’s life is ultimately depicted as tragic, Coppola enlivens the story with humor, much of it involving Marie’s attempts to excite her unresponsive husband.
There is a great scene during the couple’s first breakfast together when Marie asks Louis about his hobby of making keys. “Do you enjoy making keys?” Marie inquires, to which Louis replies, with utter deadpan, “Obviously.”
But what sticks out about “Marie Antoinette” is not really the story, but rather Dunst’s performance and Coppola’s skill in painting a sympathetic portrait of the oft-criticized queen.
Dunst has the ability to suggest volumes of meaning just with her eyes and her body language, and some of her best moments in the film occur when she does not say a word.
Her performance as Marie careens back and forth between a melancholic young woman who feels the weight of the world on her shoulders, and a fervent party-girl who uses gambling and excessive spending to make her life bearable.
The film is mostly photographed with hand-held cameras and often Coppola uses first-person shots to allow the audience to see and hear what Marie sees and hears. And when the camera is not functioning directly as Marie’s perspective, it allows us to witness her most intimate moments as when she has a breakdown and the camera hovers within inches of her face.
All of this goes a long way in helping the audience to understand Marie Antoinette. No longer is she a distant queen who declared to the starving masses of France, “Let them eat cake.” (Which, as the film points out, she never actually said.)
Instead, Coppola’s film reveals a young woman thrust into a position of power at far too young an age and who copes with this power the only way she knew how.
Staff writer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.