Marie Antoinette is a truly divisive film that seems to make people angry easily, despite being rather soft and mild-mannered. The problem is that people expected the movie to be political, or to be more precise, to be critical of aristocracy to make the French Revolution more understandable. But that’s not what the movie provides. I think does provide something else and is political (I know, I’m not alone in that), so you shouldn’t blame it for what it isn’t. But the film is very well-made by Sofia Coppola, very determined and precise. It shows the story from the point of view of its protagonist (played very well by Kirsten Dunst) and I don’t see a fault in that. If a young girl becomes Queen of France, where’s the problem in showing how a teenager deals with that? And unlike many critics, I didn’t find the movie dull but really interesting.
Here’s the thing. The movie opens as bold as possible, using a pink font for the credits, showing Marie fitting on shoes while just dipping her fingers in huge cakes, soundtracked by Natural’s Not in It by Gang of Four. Man, that song made me so excited for the movie. Gang of Four is one of the most political and critical of society band ever (and I love them very much), so hearing that song was more than a pleasure. Especially this song is talking about materialism in our society and how detached we are from our emotions. It’s brilliant, the whole opening. But then the movie does something completely unexpected: it stops right there. From that point on we just follow Marie in her daily life, with her ridiculous routines, the way she laughs about them and also suffers, especially once she becomes queen and is expected to turn on her detached husband (Jason Schwartzman). I think the movie works as the portrayal of this adolescent girl stumbling through this fake society and trying to enjoy her little escapisms like shopping, music and hanging out with friends. It becomes a universal story this way about young people not being able to decide about their lives. I think the movie was mistreated by critics, but I also will mostly remember that singular, unique, isolated opening shot that gave me the rare pleasure of hearing Gang of Four being used in a movie. The opening in the end serves as a way of saying “That’s what you expect, but that’s not what we’re doing here.” It’s not a satire of the rich, but it is very aware of that. As shown in the movie, Marie was not a spoiled idiot who didn’t care about anything but herself.
Do I wish the movie would have gone the other route, using political post-punk songs to dismantle some of our society’s myths that are still existent today? I wouldn’t have minded that, but I admire Sofia Coppola’s decision to tease us and instead to do her own thing. Especially because the movie is still very good. And it still is political because it does show us what aristocracy is like and in the brilliant last shot seems to indicate that it doesn’t last. Or is it sad about its demise? I don’t think the movie is ambiguous (a notion that frustrated many), but rather leaves it to us. I like the challenge of that.