The Sunday Night Movie: Marie Antoinette (2006)

It occurred to me while re-watching Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette this past weekend that what her critics may find potentially maddening/offensive/objectionable about her films is not her politics, per se, but her occasional willingness to sacrifice both plot and character for the sake of mood, tone, and the primacy of images and sounds, in order to evoke a particular place and time (in this case, the Versailles of Louis XVI).  Especially in its second half, when, its expository business now out of the way, the film relaxes into a more languorously indolent pace, Marie Antoinette comes to feel downright experimental.  Coppola reimagines the historical costume drama by drawing on such non-narrative forms as advertisements and music videos, in which the textures of experience (how the light catches a landscape, what a piece of clothing feels like) replace sequential chains of narrative action.  The shocking thing is not exactly that Coppola lets wealthy, privileged, reckless figures like Marie Antoinette off the hook; it’s that she pulls them loose from the context of the historical film altogether.  When Coppola’s actors run through the Versailles gardens at dawn, they don’t signify as real historical figures or even as individuated characters—they’re merely a drunk, happy, careless teenage girl and her friends.  What’s audacious about this film is Coppola’s decision to engage with historical material only to cut away its weight.  She doesn’t give us History with a capital H; she gives us the wealth of tiny details, moments, and objects that make up the environments in which history plays out.  

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