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With: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Molly Shannon, Rip Torn, Asia Argento, Danny Huston, Rose Byrne, Marianne Faithfull, Mathieu Amalric
Written by: Sofia Coppola
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and innuendo
Running Time: 123
Date: 05/24/2006

Marie Antoinette (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cake Gawking

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sofia Coppola's third feature opens on a title card of pink diagonals, like a slapdash punk-pop album. From there, we meet Marie (Kirsten Dunst) lounging among platters of cakes and sweets while a handmaid fidgets with her exquisite shoes. She turns to the camera and smiles.

That smile opens up a wide range of possibilities; it breaks the rules, and Marie Antoinette goes on breaking them. Uprooted from Austria and sent to France to become its new dauphine, this Marie doesn't speak French or affect a "European" accent. Nor does she adhere to any ancient, stilted, stuffy dialogue. The costumes alone are enough to inspire the desired conduct.

Coppola avoids telling us who Marie was, preferring instead to show how she behaves. (There's no concrete story.) At first, Marie attempts to fit in with her opulent new environment, sitting squarely in her silken folds, as if afraid to upset the magnificent composition of the room (with its carefully placed flowers, furniture, sculptures, moldings, food and orchestras).

Marie's biggest problem is her duffer of a husband, Louis-Auguste (Jason Schwartzman), so dull and lumpish that he can't be bothered to make love to her. She gets the blame for their failure to conceive an heir. When the nasty gadfly buzzing becomes too much, Marie shuts herself in her chamber and sobs, while Coppola's camera moves close to her face, blocking out the room's distracting opulence for a human touch.

Soon Marie grows bored, and Coppola's camera joins her, becoming more playful and moving about more freely (the film has the best hand-held cinematography in years). Tasty pop music (New Order, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc.) blasts as she begins shopping, gambling and snacking, enjoying her privilege, even while France crumbles around her. Breathless runners occasionally charge into the scene and inform the royals of the latest bad news, but these are merely interruptions in the revelry. (As for the famous "Let them eat cake" line, Marie dismisses it as a misquote by the press: "I would never say that!" she says, amused.)

Mainly, Marie Antoinette is a film about fetish. It's about taking in all the pink cookies, pink shoes and pink wigs and finding them wonderful, even erotic. There's a freedom here that can be intoxicating. Even if many viewers will resist, preferring the kind of safe, secure structure of an important, dusty novel, Coppola has broken new ground here, reaching the same general neighborhood as Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975). Marie Antoinette

DVD Details: Sofia Coppola once again opts not to record a commentary track, but to make up for it, we get an excellent 25-minute making-of featurette by her mother, Eleanor Coppola. It features lots of wonderful, behind-the-scenes footage, plus a few dullish talking head interviews. The disc also comes with two unexciting deleted scenes, and a joke MTV "Cribs" episode with Jason Schwartzman. There are also two trailers. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the DVD in 2007.

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