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MARIE ANTOINETTE

SYNOPSIS:
The story of the young Austrian Archduchess who became Queen of France at 15, known as Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst). She has a troubled time at Versailles, married to the foppish, sexless Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), under the bossy discipline of Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis) and pitted against the whole court. Gradually - especially after she finally manages to get the young King to do his duty and impregnate her - she becomes self assured and regal. Until the French Revolution knocks all that on the head. Literally.

Review by Louise Keller:
The illustrious juxtapositions of gorgeous settings and costumes, unexpected casting and a beguiling congruence of sensibilities are the strengths of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, despite the royal cake ending up as misfire and cooked too long at the wrong temperature. Conceptually inventive, portraying historic figures in an imagined rich tapestry time warp, the film delights in many ways as a tongue-in-cheek sumptuous costume romp. The boos that echoed through the large auditorium at the Cannes competition screening, were no doubt a reflection of the less than successful change of mood, when the attempt to convert frivolity to drama fails miserably. A royal mess.

Visually, the film is breathtaking, with its lavish palaces resplendent with frescos, manicured gardens and sheer decadence. An ornate carriage drawn by magnificently plumed steeds brings Kirsten Dunst's decorative Marie Antoinette from Austria to France for the arranged marriage designed to unite the two countries. The first person she meets is the wonderfully austere Palace 'headmistress', Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis in sparkling form), who explains the daily protocol. 'This is ridiculous,' observes Marie Antoinette, as she stands naked, while the task to assist her dressing changes hands with each addition to the room. 'This... is Versailles,' de Noailles replies wryly. The final act to consummate the unlikely marriage of the spirited bride with Jason Schwartzman's po-faced Louis XVI, who symbolically makes locks for a hobby, is the amusing focus of much of the film, delivering some of its most charming moments.

Dunst is enchanting as the coiffed queen, adorned by flounces and frills, little dogs, crème cakes, champagne and strawberries. The much awaited 'let them eat cake' line is incorporated as a clever dig at the media and celebrity attention. The casting may be a risky cocktail, yet it pays off surprisingly effectively with special mention to Rip Torn as the bosom-admiring King and Steve Coogan as Ambassador Mercy. Royal stiff upper lip must have found its genesis here.

Coppola's miscalculation is her attempt to turn the lively romp into a serious drama by recounting the events in the lead up to the French revolution. Marie Antoinette still plays the coquette even as threats to kill the Queen become a reality. There is no tension or credibility as the mood changes and the spell is broken. It's as though the cake was carefully conceived, ingredients expertly folded together but once in the oven, not only does it fail to rise but leaves a bit of a mess.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
"Audacious" is the word that Cannes festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux used to describe the film (and presumably the reason for selecting it) and the combination of casting choices plus Sofia Coppola's acclaimed talent certainly promised us SOMEthing like that. Jason Schwartzman as the young King?! Rip Torn as the old King?! Steve Coogan as Ambassador?!

Sure enough, the film begins with title credits scattering the cast names in pink to a pumping soundtrack, and a teasing cameo with Kirsten Dunst having a pedicure while finger licking a large cake, adding a "what?" look to camera. This was enough to hook me, but sadly I was left unhooked by much of what follows. The film's "audacious" tone is nothing more than a sprinkling of contempo musical tracks in what is otherwise a stilted and flat movie, always beautifully shot and designed to death, but lacking interest.

It's odd that the Revolution is not used as a device to build tension; it arrives out of the blue, with scant images of the mobs, and with not much context. Coppola sticks to the cloistered world of the Court, in which the major source of tension is the initial and prolonged absence of activity in the marital bed as young Louis fails to rise to the occasion. This endangers Marie Antoinette's position politically, but also triggers bitchy comments suggesting she's frigid, and so on.

Schwartzman is encouraged to play Louis XIV as a larger than life (or should that be smaller than life) figure of fun, adding confusion to the film's mood, contrasting with Dunst's naturalistic and modern characterisation. Judy Davis is an uber-stiff control freak with a mannered performance that comes across as darkly satirical- which I don't mind, but it also conflicts with the film's mood and the other performances.

It looks fabulous throughout, if ultimately it's a disappointment - but don't give up on Coppola yet.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

FEATURE

MARIE ANTOINETTE (PG)
(US/France/Japan, 2006)

CAST: Kirsten Dunst, Marianne Faithfull, Steve Coogan, Judy Davis, Jason Schwartzman, Rose Byrne, Al Weaver, Shirley Henderson, Molly Shannon, Rip Torn, Asia Argento, Danny Houston

PRODUCER: Sofia Coppola, Ross Katz,

DIRECTOR: Sofia Coppola

SCRIPT: Sofia Coppola (book by Antonia Fraser)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lance Acord

EDITOR: Sarah Flack

MUSIC: Jean Benoit Dunckel, Nicolas Godin

PRODUCTION DESIGN: K.K. Barrett

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2006







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