Monday, September 17, 2007

Watching: Marie Antoinette

Lost in Translation is a very good movie by Sofia Coppola about a sheltered young woman alone and adrift in an alien culture, spending her time aimlessly while surrounded by superficial luxury.

So for a follow-up, Ms. Coppola draws from the same well again, and gives us this movie about a sheltered young woman alone and adrift in an alien culture, spending her time aimlessly while surrounded by superficial luxury.

This one was not so good, and not just because it didn't have Bill Murray in it. (He would've made a good Louis XV.)

The biggest problem is that Marie Antoinette just isn't a very interesting character. Her role in life, and history, was not to act, but to be acted upon, and that doesn't make for good drama. At least, the pre-Revolution Marie Antoinette that this movie focuses on isn't very interesting. If you read about her, all the really interesting stuff happened after Bastille Day. This movie ends -- SPOILER ALERT -- with her being seized by the (unseen) mob, tragically bringing a premature end to a non-stop Euro-disco party.

It's all about the point of view. There could be a valid purpose to presenting the material in this way, if it were, for example, to show some parallel with contemporary life, or just as social criticism in general. This was more of a character study, showing the tragic naivete of Marie, but it failed to appreciate the context in which she lived.

The politics here are a bit unsavory. Here's the writer-director, a third-generation member of Hollywood royalty, working with her legendary father as the producer, her brother as the assistant director, and her cousin co-starring as the king, all making a movie about the decline and fall of the nobility, a gilded age brought down by ignorant peasant rabble. The final shot of the movie is extremely annoying in this regard. It shows Marie's bedchamber, the morning after the crowd has stormed Versailles, defiled and broken. The people who did this are nowhere to be seen, and no motive is assigned to their actions. All we see are the effects of what they've done to this belle epoque, the physical destruction they've wrought on the beauty, glamour and order that was Versailles in particular, and the aristocracy of Old Europe in general. It is disturbing that this is the message Ms. Coppola apparently finds in this story. When Wordsworth said:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!
he was talking about the Revolution, not the corrupted regime that preceded (and necessitated) it. It's surely more fun to lounge around drinking champagne, gambling with the peasants' tax money and listening to Bow Wow Wow, but is it really something to be celebrated?

Well, at least the soundtrack was good. Plus, there was a Judy Davis sighting.

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