Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Marie Antoinette (2006)

When a film comes out on DVD and you can find it on a bargain discount rack less than a month after its release, that is really saying something. But being a big fan of history and having a special interest in the French Revolution, I couldn't resist snatching up a $4.00 copy of Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette".

Marie Antoinette was an Austrian-born Queen of France who is famous for uttering the words "Let them eat cake" when told of the people's suffering. Most historians agree that she probably never said any such thing, and even the script clearly has her denying having said it – but there is an awful lot of cake in this film. With the eighty-some pounds of sweets that garnish this film like candy sprinkles on ice cream, one has to wonder how any of the court ladies kept their figures!

Of course, the whole film is so candy-coated that I don't even know where to begin. I suppose the first thing that ruffled my feathers was the soundtrack. There is something incredibly wrong with a film set in a historical time period where everything is done just so properly while blaring out contemporary songs such as "I Want Candy". I realize that Marie was very young when she married Louis and she was extremely bored with French court life, but I felt like I was watching a time-travel version of Legally Blonde.

There's little doubt that the film was directed towards a younger audience and the idea that Marie was a "hip" teenager who happened to marry well and could literally spend her life partying would sound like a cool premise for a teen film. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work once the Bastille is stormed. The actual historical turning points are glossed over so much that it seems that the filmmakers just assumed that everyone who went to see it would already know all about the French Revolution and therefore they didn't need to go into all that boring stuff. Instead, they spend ten minutes showing us Marie's shoe collection.

Asides from the multiple liberties taken with the events and the huge gaping holes in the timeline, there was also an unforgivable ball drop in regards to Madam du Barry. We meet du Barry pretty early in the film, and she is wonderfully portrayed as being a bold dresser, trampy, and a completely unlikable character. We spend many scenes listening in on the court gossip about how so many people despise her. And then as the King lies dying, we see her get into a carriage and completely disappear.

With as much build-up as they did on the Barry character, I was certain that the huge diamond necklace scandal that discredited Antoinette and marked her as a thief in the eyes of the public would be part of the story about Marie's life. Nope, it's time to buy some more shoes and eat some more cake.

So as the film drew to a close and we seem to go from a big party to a big mob storming the castle in just under a minute with no clear explanation as to the whys and wherefores of the bread shortage, it dawned on me that French history is probably not a topic in that oh-so-important standardized testing and therefore probably isn't well-covered in schools. If I didn't already have an extensive knowledge of the history, I wouldn't have had any idea what was happening.

When word was brought to the palace that the Bastille had been overtaken and that the people are generally pissed off, I was hoping we'd be dispensing with the frilly parties and getting to the real nitty-gritty about exactly how much Marie was loathed by the people. Instead, we get some sort of Eva Peron type of an entrance scene with Marie stepping on the balcony and looking at an angry torch-bearing mob and saying…well, absolutely nothing. Next thing we know she and Louis are being whisked away in a carriage to places and fates unknown. (Or at least unknown to anyone who didn't do their history homework beforehand.)

And so dear readers, I can only say that there was only one thing in this film that made it worth the two hours viewing time. The costumes were simply beautiful.

Film information: Marie Antoinette

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