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ISSUE 120 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/27/2006

Coppola’s modern ‘Marie’ sparkles

By Stephanie Soucheray
News Editor

Friday, October 27, 2006

Long a symbol of an overfed and selfish monarchy, Marie Antoinette is not the easiest sell as the protagonist of Sofia Coppola's new biopic “Marie Antoinette.” But with beautiful cinematography and strong performances, Coppola manages to get under the skin of the fated “teen queen” and tells the story of her coming of age with sensitivity and careful precision.

Kirsten Dunst (of “The Virgin Suicides” and “Spiderman” fame) plays Antoinette with the affectation of a California teenager. Rather than being a distraction, however, Dunst's crooked-tooth grin and lack of accent transforms Marie Antoinette from the dead caricature in history textbooks to a living breathing person: A pretty teenage girl who plays with her hair, talks about shoes with her friends and kisses her puppy as she's held captive between the self-indulgent haze of adolescence and the responsibility of adulthood.

The previews for “Marie Antoinette,” with their neon pink factoids and pulsing Gang of Four thump, are misleading for the tone and pace of the film. Many of Coppola's wandering shots of Versailles and its gardens are unaccompanied by sound or dialogue.

The film's most beautiful and touching movements are camera pans across Dunst as she experiences brief reprieves from being a queen. As Coppola follows her watching the sunset or playing in the garden with her daughter, the audience is asked to be a quiet observer in the character of Antoinette.

For a certain set of young moviegoers, those who adore the fuzzy sadness of “Lost in Translation” and are proud Francophiles, the release of Coppola's movie is more exciting than the fifth “Harry Potter” movie.

These fans will love this film. They will relish the eye candy, talk about the shopping spree sequence set to “I Want Candy” for weeks, and sigh with knowing sadness as Dunst repeatedly fails to seduce her own husband into consummating their marriage.

Others will find the movie annoying. Above all, Coppola is a filmmaker who focuses on aesthetics. Thus the colors of Marie's hair and the inclusion of New Wave music on the soundtrack all mean something to the story Coppola is trying to tell, but they may distract the viewer who is more interested in the plot.

As for plot, “Marie Antoinette” doesn't have much. The film ends at the beginning of the French Revolution, and the revolution itself is rarely indentified. Coppola may have excluded this to demonstrate how naive and ignorant Marie Antoinette was of the suffering of her people, but the film's end does seem abrupt and hurried.

Most of the conflict in the movie comes in the funny yet poignant trials and tribulations of Marie and her husband Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) in bed. Remaining celibate for years, and thus heirless, the awkward sexual advances between the characters are heartbreaking in their sweetness. Schwartzman is to credit for much of this: his passive Louis is confounded by the stranger suddenly placed next to him in bed.

The supporting cast is also strong, with great stints by Rip Torn and the under – appreciated Molly Shannon as Versailles gossip Aunt Victorie.

Coppola's movies are about capturing a feeling through the physical realities of her character's world: the suburban record collection in “The Virgin Suicides,” the Tokyo arcades of “Lost in Translation.”

In “Marie Antoinette,” Coppola creates a feeling of regality in a carriage ride from Paris to Versailles with a smiling Dunst looking at the landscape as Bow Wow Wow's cover of “Fools Rush In” plays in the background. Nothing in that scene makes sense, is historically accurate, or attempts to teach the audience a lesson. But in that scene, all viewers will be shocked to find themselves, for one brief moment, feeling like a queen.

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