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Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006)

Empire World Exchange cinema with Krystle. Spur of the moment decision after rock climbing didn't work out.

Krystle suggested it. I wanted to see the film but it certainly wasn't a must-see in my books given how I wasn't a big fan of Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides and was even less impressed with Lost in Translation. That said, the concept of the film was definitely intriguing and the fact that Marie Antoinette's being played by Kirsten Dunst didn't hurt.

This Film = Kirsten Dunst. I can't imagine anyone else playing this role. Something that Dunst does so well is emoting a sincere and convincing sense of naive childish giddiness. When I think about it, I think that's what allowed Bring It On to be great, since it required her to both be an archetypal cheerleader (i.e. irritatingly enthusiastic) while also being the sympathetic main character (i.e. not be irritatingly enthusiastic). Not an easy thing to do.

The many scenes which make use of this quality of Dunst's are the film's finest. Take the film's most memorable scene, the opera, at which Antoinette begins applauding all by herself. And even after being told that clapping breaches protocol, she simply replies, "but it was so wonderful!" Her giddiness works to remind us of how young and naive Antoinette truly was at the time in being so joyously overwhelmed that she barely acknowledges the breach, but it's Dunst's sincerity that wins us over and makes it so easy to empathize with her fellow audience members who become equally won over. They begin to clap slowly until it crescendoes into a loud standing ovation, to the point where we realize they are not merely clapping out of obedience, nor are they simply clapping for the performance, but for their newfound admiration for Antoinette. Mag-nificent!

Another fantastic bit was right off the beginning. Reading some critiques it seems that people had problems with the contemporary music or lack of accents or language that fits the period. Well they would have an argument if Coppola just threw that in somewhere in the middle, but as it is she prepares you for it right off the bat with the fantastic opening shot of Antoinette getting her toes done and turning to look directly into the camera as she licks some cake off her fingers, raises her eyebrow in a "what are you looking at?" manner and goes back to reclining, cut to black and cue the indie rock music.

The odd thing is, usually I'm pretty good with remembering plenty of details from any movie I see, even if it was crappy or forgettable. But immediately after watching the film I found that, besides the two scenes I mentioned, I really couldn't remember any scenes at all. I'm not sure if this is something that Coppola is doing (or not doing for that matter) since I realize that I remember next-to-nothing of what happens in The Virgin Suicides (in fact, I didn't even remember that Kirsten Dunst was in that movie until after writing this whole thing!) and little of Lost in Translation as well.

Maybe it falls into that category of "shallow masterpieces" that Kael talked about in explaining Citizen Kane ("It is difficult to explain what makes any great work, and particularly difficult with movies, and maybe more so with Citizen Kane than with other great movies, because it isn't a work of special depth or a work of subtle beauty.") The film is not built upon any sort of conventional plot, it's really built upon the shoulders of Kirsten Dunst and what Coppola can do with her. It's a character study that's pieced together with scenes that each hope to illuminate some aspect of Antoinette's contradictory life. And while many are beautiful, few of them stand out and they don't seem to progress.

A subtle and insightful scene can only be played out so many times before it too becomes as bland. And the film never does seem to build upon or progress beyond what Dunst can do (which is a lot). The plot doesn't present her with any new problems. It is beautiful and subtle, but it is static. Antoinette has her circumstances change but her character never really changes. Instead of clothes and hair, her interests change to her private getaway and her new boyfriend. And maybe that's the point, but even if it is that's still a flaw, you can make something seem boring without making the presentation in itself boring.

I'm sure Dunst will win a lot of accolades for this movie and I'm glad for her because they're all well-deserved. I'm especially glad that she was able to pull off such a feat without having to resort to the crappy external factor of simply playing a role that is atypical of her Hollywood persona (are you reading this Halle Berry?!) but that instead, builds upon her strengths as an actress. No one would argue that Marilyn Monroe was the most versatile actress ever, but can you imagine anyone else who could have played her in Some Like it Hot or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? No! Come to think of it, Dunst has made some pretty good decisions for herself as well, she's been fantastic and well-fitting for most roles I've seen her in (Bring it On, Spider-Man, The Cat's Meow, Dick).

I doubt this will be a film that burns itself into my mind, whose various scenes might linger and blossom. That said, I don't think it's a paradox to say that it's also an extremely - not just superficially - beautiful film with a great deal of subtlety, all of which is owed to Ms. Dunst and Ms. Coppola. I'll certainly enjoy watching various scenes from the movie over and over again.



Blogger Lily said...

I watched most of Marie Antoinette on the plane.

This film definitely feels like a follow up to the Virgin Suicides, not only because of Kirsten Dunst, but also because there is a hazy, summer atmosphere to the entire film. It feels as if it is in a dreamlike state.

Kirsten Dunst gives such a subtle performance in this film and it is incredible seeing her age more than ten years in this film, from being a scared teenager, to a strong woman in her early thirties.

I enjoyed this movie because it effectively translated a centuries old stories into something very relate-able. It has a bold choice to use indie music and American accents but it worked for this film. What an incredible vision!

The costumes were definitely sumptuous and I enjoyed it very much because it was very stylist.

February 26, 2007  

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