Sofia “Lost in Translation” Coppola presents a revisionist version of the life of Marie Antoinette (Dunst), whose disastrous reign kick-started the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century.
We begin in 1769 when Antoinette, as a 14-year-old girl, is whisked off to Versailles to marry Louis XI (Schwartzman) in an effort to strengthen the Franco-Austrian alliance.
However, for this union to truly succeed Antoinette must produce a male heir to the throne, a process made somewhat difficult by the Dauphin’s preference for “hunting the stag” which leaves their marriage unconsummated for 7 years.
Meanwhile, the young queen’s extravagant spending sprees - coupled with her husband’s costly overseas wars - have drained the country’s coffers and the French peasant underclass is dying from starvation.
So, on hearing the news of her people’s struggles, did Antoinette really dismiss the problem by saying “Let them eat cake” as the legend dictates?
Don’t bother looking here for any serious answers.
Anyone expecting a detailed biopic of the young French queen’s life (as was the case with this year’s famously disapproving Cannes audience) is in for a big disappointment.
Opting for grand spectacle and visual splendour as opposed to historical accuracy, Coppola’s vision is a sympathetic portrait of the much maligned Antoinette that tells us little of worth about one of the most important periods in French history.
We see virtually nothing of the Dauphin’s political fumblings, the peasants’ hardships, or even Antoinette’s death, with the movie abruptly err … cut off before she is condemned to the guillotine.
Coppola attempts to clear her subject of any blame, portraying her as a child-like innocent who, as the Dauphin himself says, is simply “too young to reign”, and ignoring the hardships suffered by the French people during her time in power.
Even her famous line “let them eat cake” is glossed over in a distinctly half-baked fashion, dismissed simply as something she would never have been foolish enough to say.
Admittedly, Coppola presents her tale with an arresting visual flair, paying detailed attention to the costumes and practices of the time (she was allowed unprecedented access to the halls of Versailles). And Dunst is perfectly cast as the unprepared adolescent thrust into the public limelight before she was ready - as was the case in her own life after making her big screen debut at the age of nine.
While the MTV Cribs style tour of Versailles Palace, hosted by star Jason Schwartzman, provides some arresting behind the scenes footage, there is little else to recommend on this below par special features package. Apart from a handful of deleted scenes that add nothing to the final cut, there is only a perfunctory “making of” featurette (full of the typical “oh, it was so great to work with…” rubbish) that adds little insight into Coppola’s movie or Antoinette’s life. Expect a bumper “Special Edition” later in the year.
While it all looks good enough to eat on the surface, there is little of any nourishment beneath, and Coppola’s tactic of mixing historical subject matter (for the old timers) with an MTV pop soundtrack (for the kids) suggests that the director wants to have her cake and eat it too.
Staring: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, Judy Davis, Marianne Faithfull, Steve Coogan
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Extras: 'Making-Of' Featurette, 'Cribs With Louis XVI' Featurette, Deleted Scenes