30 mai 2006

Marie-Antoinette (2006/Coppola)

Marie-Antoinette (2006/Sofia Coppola/USA) ++

Opening Scene : Rock guitars soundtrack. Aerial shot of a lazy Marie-Antoinette sleeping next to her dog on an unmade bed. Dreaming, smiling, enjoying the idleness of an aristocratic leisure at the Hasbourg court. Her life is about to take a dramatic turn for her own lifestyle as well as for the future of Europe. The ambassador announces Louis XV agreed to her marriage with his grand-son Louis XVI. She must leave everything behind, youth, innocence, family, belongings... to meet her fate and duty. After brief farewell and motherly recommendations she travels to the border in a horse-drawn carriage.
While the opening sequence in Vienna was really short, planting a succinct pre-France background as a matter of reference to clash with Versailles later, the second sequence, with pink opening credits, lingers on the long carriage trip across the Austrian landscape. The montage shows her looking by the window, laughing with her company, contemplating a small painting of her futur spouse. She doesn't seem to realize what is going on and entertains this ceremonious protocol like a fairy tale. She's then 14, and the dauphin Louis Auguste, 15.
Neither kitsch enough to be shocking nor accurate enough to be respectable, the historical biopic turns into a trivial chick flick, monotonous, descriptive, uniform, and unfortunately lost the alleged subversion on the way. Her most daring attempt was to introduce Converse shoes in a fashion montage. The superficial melodrama lacks the grandeur and complexity of real life Marie-Antoinette, who was both better and worse than the simplified fantasized Hollywood version of a puerile libertine. Detractors reproach anachronistic liberties. I found it quite interesting to portray a major historical figure through the deliberately narrow prism of her intimate life, out of any context. However it might not have been achieved by the most convincing means.

Inspired by the biography by Stefan Zweig (1933), French historian Evelyne Lever (2000), and British historian Antonia Fraser (2002), Sofia began to write this script in 2001, before Lost In Translation. She dropped the adaptation rights for the french book after 36 months, finally leaving historical accuracy for the glamour and modern diary-style of Antonia Fraser, based on the intimate and detailed correspondance between Marie-Antoinette and her mother Marie-Therese, empress of Austria. Sofia Coppola was granted special access to visit and shoot in the actual palace of Versailles, some rooms under restoration were reopened especially for the film. The revival of this dusty museum by a costumed crowd and horses is an impressive rendition, even if the French aristocracy speaks like Californians... The Marienbad-inspired tracking shots through the geometrical gardens and ornemental corridors are quite delightful indeed.

The subversion is meant to draw a facile parallel with the fastuous, luxurious, extravagant, and vain milieu of the stardom millionaires. Hollywood, and Cannes too incidentally, are new incarnations of the ancient aristocracy. Lady Di, doomed princess with illicit love affairs, being the perfect link between Versailles and today's jet-set. Thus feeling a complacent empathy for the petty problems of the richest people : ennui, melancholy, recognition, fame, attraction, seduction, domination, entertainment, pleasure, thrill...

Now, the atmosphere does offer nice unconventional touches at times, more on par with what we'd expect from Sofia Coppola's inspiration. There are many charms. A very personal period movie highlighting a secret lesserknown personality of the queen usually associated with the Revolution.
What the film achieves very well is to represent the Versailles way of life from inside, with emphasis on the flaws and inconveniences, unlike most period films showing the nobility of it all. Here we see a queen bored by her status, the oppressive etiquette, the snobbish rivalry. Even if this view isn't quite historicaly accurate, it is interesting to follow a discontent queen who cares about her private life, dear friends, parties and bucolic leisure and much less about the kingdom's grandeur.
King and Queen have separate appartments in the palace, and rarely meet eachother but for meals. The royal family, greatfather Louis XV and his official mistress la Du Barry, as well as her own children are mostly out of the picture. Which reveals how solitary is the life of a queen because there are always people to take care of things for her, she doesn't have to worry about a thing, not even her children's education. Although the illustration of the queen's passion for gambling, dancing, fashion, wigs, Champagne and colorful biscuits can be too caricatural and uninspired.

The royal couple is assisted to get dressed and undressed in public. Going to bed and waking up are ceremonious showcases for the court. Marie-Antoinette turns away from the rigorous, extraneous, overbearing protocol and the courtly company established by Louis XIV. While her husband is busy with state business, hunt and locksmith, she grows a vulgar fad for farm and sheep, reading Rousseau in a Hamilton-lite flower field, watching sunrise near the canal. A quick plan puts cleverly in perspective this fancy lunacy by showing a servant cleaning the muddy eggs before the queen arrives with her daughter to collect them. She recreated an idealized farm in Versailles, a dollhouse out of touch with reality. Centered exclusively on Marie-Antoinette's viewpoint, the film is appropriately claustrophobic, shut out from outside events, from Paris, from France, from the World.
The court gossips is figured by a voiceover while the queen crosses the vast corridors and gardens, so we don't see the courtisans deriding her and maybe they are not even present. The overlay with Marie Antoinette's perfect composure, pretending she doesn't pay attention to petty mockery, creates a provocative collision of distinct (cinematic) realities, one of the polite public facade of everyone (visual) and one of the snide deriding backstage (auditive).
Sofia Coppola said she didn't feel comfortable to depict religion, politics and history that were too far from her immediate concerns. This wouldn't undermine a transgressive project if it wasn't nonetheless overwhelmed by its own decorum. The originality meant to expose the decadente modernity of a bohemian queen seems overtly distracted by an adolescent fascination, on the part of Sofia Coppola, for fancy dresses fetishism and the majesty of grandiloquent scenes. The private tragedy so well orchestrated in her previous intimate films through understatements and precautious mundane scrutiny misses here.
The narration is encumberred by reconstitution of famous events. For instance, the only political reference feels anecdotical on the wider scope of the end of monarchy : the participation of France to help americans in the War of Independence against the archenemy, the British Empire.

The film already cuts short before the French Revolution, making a strong statement not to show the world that exists and dies outside the idyllic frontiers of the Versailles property. The notorious escape to Varennes of the royal couple organized by Thomas Fersen (to save his secret lover) failed because someone recognized the disguised king from his profile engraved on the gold coins. When Louis XV was beheaded by the guillotine, Marie-Antoinette kneeled before her son who had just inherited the throne, a king in prison. The behavior of the queen in Paris, first at Le Palais des Tuileries and then locked at La Bastille before her execution is what contributed to build the legend of Marie-Antoinette. However none of this made the cut.

Kirsten Dunst, 23 yold, plays Marie-Antoinette from 14 in Vienna to 35 when she leaves Versailles, without any make up or acting changes. Same for Jason Schwartzman as Louis XV. She remains an eternal adulescent. Again this subversive gimmick would work better if the rest of the film also took advantage of an abstract, timeless mise-en-scène, cleared of historical referent that remind us of time passing.

My ultimate impression of the film is that it goes too fast, spanning over too many years, too many important events that are inevitably overlooked and underdevelopped anyway, despite the awkward storyline jump cuts. For example the first royal intercourse transitions with the child delivery in a wink. Only a male heir could solidify this union and the European diplomacy it involves. The film accentuates the virginity of Marie-Antoinette, from 14 to 21, as a sexualy inhibited Louis XV refuses to touch her during 7 years of marriage! If the insight does inform the estrangement and incompatibility of this couple, the illustration becomes a mere running gag of a recurrent bed scene where the contact is continually aborted. Silly phrases such as "I'm exhausted", "I have to wake up early for hunt tomorrow" that play on the comical relief by today's soap opera standards.

I think Sofia Coppola would have expressed her talent best by limiting the timeline to a random slice of life, without the need to show her teenage marriage and her demise. Just a continuous period of days between Versailles and Trianon. A transcendental portrayal a timeless queen with sentimental issues and a precursor eccentricity. The location in Versailles and the costumes would have been enough to characterize the era and personality. The film could have been much more subversive, formally and morally, within a lose framework disregarding the hassle to narrate her full biography. Maybe she would have written scenes more surprising about her intimacy, her daily boredom, her desires and her dreams. The humanity of an immature woman constrained by an unhappy forced marriage and a ridiculous protocol, the anti-comformist queen who built a farm in Versailles to take care of plants and sheep. Although she failed to developped the sentiment of alienation and solitude so deeply mastered in Virgin Suicide and Lost in Translation.

Official Website (french) - trailers
Cannes 2006 - Official Competition
(s) + (w) ++ (m) +++ (i) ++ (c) +++

1 commentaire:

HarryTuttle a dit…

A. O. Scott (New York Times)
Daniel Kasman (d+kaz)
Jeremy Heilman (MovieMartyr)
Jeny Jediny (Not Coming To A Theatre Near You)
Aaron Hillis (Premiere)
David D'Arcy (GreenCine Daily)