Wed October 18, 2006
Coppola can do better.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Ennui"?For a French-based film by a most promising writer/director, I can think of only the word for BORING. How is it possible to spend millions of dollars on one of the most sumptuous-looking films in years and yet create a story so devoid of character and drama as to make Dangerous Liaisons seem an energetic masterpiece?
Based on Antonia Fraser's book about the archduchess of Austria and later queen of France, Marie Antoinette is about a 14 year old girl imported for breeding purposes to be Louis XVI's wife. That the French revolutionaries see her as the symbol of French decadence is as well known as her lovely neck.
Surely Sofia Coppola can do better with the story of Marie Antoinette, one of the most fascinating characters out of history, whose famous line, "Let them eat cake," probably wasn't even hers. The subject cries out for an informed, vital discovery of her real place in the French Revolution. What we get is distance and dreariness as almost an entire film is dedicated to sumptuous costuming and slacker inaction in the bed of a future king and queen.
As overly long as the many interminable long shots, but beautiful in composition and lighting (How can you really go wrong with Versailles?), the lack of drama is surprising for a director whose strength is understatement and sub-textual significance. Her Oscar winning Lost in Translation is a triumph of underplaying-- two people (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) drawn to each other in a culture, Japan, which accentuated their loneliness, longing, and civility. And all of this subtlety is conveyed with a minimum of dialogue but a maximum of feeling from two consummate actors, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
Now Kirsten Dunst is unquestionably lovely as Marie, but when she talks her voice has a teenage tone that makes me wonder if the director had her sound as immature as Marie actually was or that Dunst is just not the actress Johansson is. In any case, no one in the film is given lines to be proud of, and no one gives a performance that could be characterized as nuanced or imaginative.
Visit Versailles if you want to understand why the poor and hungry of 18th century France eventually have her head. This film will only confirm the prevailing notion that Marie was misunderstood; that she was profligate as a teenager makes for an unsatisfying 2 hour drama.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com