Here's a little something I've been meaning to write for some time now. I wanted to record my huge appreciation of Sofia Coppola's mesmerising Marie Antoinette.
I simply adored this film. Most unexpectedly.
I fervently wish I'd caught it at the cinema - such a lustrous, richly visual spectacle probably deserved nothing less. But I had to make do with a DVD and my widescreen television, fed through speakers to do some justice at least to the wonderful soundtrack.
I also loved Coppola's Lost in Translation and her earlier work, The Virgin Suicides. Which must mean, I guess, that Coppola's aesthetic style appeals to me. There is a stillness, a silence almost, at the heart of her films - even when your screen is a riot of colour and activity - which I find intensely moving. I also love her focus on strong female protagonists, and by strong, that doesn't mean kickass 'Xena' warrior princess-types - but complex, multi-layered women, whose feelings you can't help but engage with.
Scarlet Johansson was a splendid Coppola heroine in Lost in Translation, capturing that slightly aloof yet densely textured Coppolaesque 'essence' for want of a better phrase. I harboured doubts about Kirsten Dunst in the title role as Marie Antoinette. I'm not a great fan of Dunst, even though I enjoyed her in Coppola's The Virgin Suicides.
In fact, for much of Marie Antoinette, I even wondered if Dunst had bitten off more than she could chew. She seemed so ill at ease, so lost in it all, overwhelmed ... and then it struck me that she was absolutely perfect for the role, capturing Marie Antoinette's own lost, lonely sense of alienation, her necessity to seal herself away in a lush, consumerist dreamworld - a fantasia which was to cost her dearly.
Indeed, Marie Antoinette's excessive purchasing habits, her debauched lifestyle, were splendidly portrayed here. As was the opulent grandeur and sumptuous ritual of life at Versailles.
Other performances worth mentioning include Jason Schwartzman as Marie's sexually awkward husband Louis XVI, Steve Coogan as Marie's Austrian compatriot Ambassador Mercy (their final parting was particularly poignant), Shirley Henderson as Aunt Sophie and Rose Byrne as the scandalous, vivacious Duchesse de Polignac.
I had no qualms with the plethora of American accents, with the liberties taken with historical veracity, with the tumbling juxtaposition of historicities with brash 80s pop music. Indeed, the music was a highlight. I especially loved the usage of Siouxsie and the Banshee's Hong Kong Gardens, complete with violin intro, and I loved how the disconsolate melancholy of The Cure was used in the closing credits, capturing the sense of tragedy which pervades the closing stages of the film - indeed, there is a haunting melancholic undertow throughout. We all know how it ends, even though Coppola chooses to close the action with the King and Queen quitting Versailles for the very last time.
Music is such a powerful sensory weapon in the director's arsenal and Sofia Coppola proves she has an expert ear.
All in all, this was one of my favourite filmic experiences for some time. I am disappointed that Marie Antoinette didn't receive particularly positive critical feedback. Nor was it a box office sensation. Far from it. But this is an assured and moving piece of work from a hugely talented director.