I finally got around to seeing Marie Antoinette over the weekend. This film has so harshly divided critics and audiences that it supposedly got booed and also a standing ovation at Cannes. As far as the critics on Rotten Tomatoes it has recieved favorable reviews from just over half of the critics while the other half seemed to have loathed it. This was all coming off the almost universally acclaimed Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides which had me thinking that Sofia Coppola was suddenly a critics darling. I guess that faded away.
As for me, I loved this film. I think it is the best American movie of the year. I also think it's Sofia Coppola's best film.
A few days removed from seeing the film, I am struggling to see what some critics would find so offensive in this movie to attack it with the vitrol that some critics have. Yes, it's about a figure that is more or less reviled in France. But Coppola does not go directly at the politics of the era, instead she handles those issues subtely. Instead of showing a beheading or a peasant throwing a potato at her carraige we are primarily shown life inside of Versailles. And it is in this way that Coppola shows the politics of that time. We see the ridiculousness of protocall within Versailles. We hear the gossip within the walls. We see how the whole of the Versailles existed to watch the Queen and serve her, but this doesn't mean they neccessarily did this with a kind heart. Antoinnette was a synbol of an agreement with Austria handed over for France to make a Queen and proviode an heir to the throne. Coppola attempts to show in the film that she never was ready for this lifestyle and never had the chance to grow up. The themes of young women being made to grow up before they are ready is a theme Coppola touched on in her previous two films, and seems to have found different tones to tell these stories with.
Here for long parts, it looks like a fluff piece and may even be one, if you want it to be. The subtelty of the politics within Versailles is often taken over with extended scenes of Antoinette partying, shopping, eating, and partying again. I wondered before the film how Coppola's over stylized way of direction would work in a period piece, and it was during those scenes where this all could have gone wrong. At times this is all covered with a soundtrack of 80's new wave rock, but it worked suprisingly well in many of the scenes. Part of the reason was despite the music video feel of the trailer it was not an 80's new wave musical. There was some use of romantic era classical music as well.
And yes, those scenes did show ridiculous amount of excess which was enough to give you an idea of why such a queen would be despised by the French people. At the same time though, Coppola painted Antoinette sympathetically. This was especially shown to be the case in the way she chose to handle the matter of Antoinette's death.
I don't believe you need any familiarity with the history to enjoy this film. If you want you can gather rather broad political storylines from it. If you would rather sit back and just watch a beautifully filmed and paced story you can see that as well. When I look at the vitrol from some critics I can't help but think it's become part of teh build them up and then tear them down sort of criticism that has been prevalent in music and film recently. In the end though a few years from now, I do think this film will be looked back on as a rather remarkable achievement and likely the best of Coppola's early career.