New Wave Punk…Versailles…Running Aristocrats…Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette

There’s not a whole lot I can say about the film Marie-Antoinette that has not been said by film reviewers who have already seen the movie. It got “lusty boos” at the Cannes Film Festival and is described by the New York Times reviews that I have linked to as a gilded Versailles presented through a gilded conduit of one bred in Hollywood (not to mention that the soundtrack includes the likes of The Cure and New Order). According to reviewer Manohla Dargis, “Ms. Coppola’s period film, which is playing in competition, conceives of her as something of a poor little rich girl, a kind of Paris Hilton of the House of Bourbon.”

Reviewer A.O. Scott also sees Marie-Antoinette as “Holding a mirror up to Hollywood.” Maybe there is something to the idea that Hollywood has an eerie similarity to Versailles–the frivolity, the unmitigated decadence, the navel-gazing–but it seems like Coppola is too enamored with the ritualistic luxury that surrounded and pampered Marie-Antoinette to realize this. As James Rocchi says, “Much of Coppola’s film is given over to sequences of dancing, trying on clothes or relaxing — all of which may have been important elements of Marie Antoinette’s life, but they hardly make for thrilling cinema.” I would add that it hardly makes for relevant cinema.

The problem with portraying Marie-Antoinette in this manner is that it neglects that her significance lay primarily in the severe contrast between her (and others at the Court of Versailles’s) lifestyle and those of most other French people at the time. Coppola’s approach adds yet another uncritical piece of celebrity worship to an already overflowing mass. Perhaps Coppola is so accustomed to the attention she and fellow celebrities get from the press just for being celebrities that, in her mind, the peasants storming Versailles would have been just as enamored with Marie-Antoinette’s life as the average American supposedly is with the life of her and her colleagues in the equally insulated and disconnected world of Hollywood. They’re not really storming the palace to overturn a social order, they’re storming the palace for autographs, right?

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About elainemeyer
I'm a writer and editor. I work in communications at the Columbia School of Public Health, where I write about epidemiologic research. In the past I've worked as a reporter and studied journalism and history in school.

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