By Andrew Harwood
A new semester, the same old blog: welcome back to “Cinephilia,” cinephiles.
Having run through almost every genre imaginable and known to man last year, I brought it upon myself to decide to critique and recommend a single film every week in order to stay true to my critic-at-large aspiration.
So, without further adieu, let’s get straight to it with this week’s film of choice: “Marie Antoinette.”
Released in 2006 and written and directed by Sofia Coppola, “Marie Antoinette” tells the story of the titular and infamous queen of France, Marie Antoinette, from her betrothal to the young Louis XVI to her ultimate deposition from Versailles.
In this highly stylized film, complete with dazzling wardrobe, filming access to the real Palace of Versailles and a New Wave alternative soundtrack, Coppola is able to captivate her audience solely based upon the spectacle that is what we see on screen.
Specifically, by that I am referring to “mise-en-scene,” a French film theorist term that simply refers to everything we see on screen, including the setting, actors, costumes, props and more.
Having viewed this film three times, I can confidently express my opinion that this is probably one of the most exceptional examples of mise-en-scene ever. As mentioned before, the use of the Palace of Versailles in conjunction with impeccable costumes and jaw-dropping makeup compile to create a nevertheless attracting frame.
That said, I personally don’t think there is one bad shot in this film. However, can we simply pin that to the mise-en-scene or cinematography? Or do those two go hand-in-hand? I would argue that they don’t, but I’ll save that question for you to determine.
Circling back to the film, it is interesting to note that “Marie Antoinette” completely polarized critics when it was released at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006. As mind-boggling as this may be, I can completely understand the polarization.
Though beautifully filmed, the acting is just not there — not to say that the acting is atrocious, because that is just not true. However, it’s almost hard to watch prolonged sequences simply because of the awkwardness that exists on screen.
In thought, though, was this on purpose? After all, if we take into consideration the historical context in which Marie Antoinette was only 14 years old when she married Louis XVI and how she fancied good times and a bodacious personality, it almost makes sense that the acting just isn’t there.
Coppola simply favors her stylistic approach to the film, which features alternative sound over highly choreographed raucous scenes, staggered with the occasional dazzling spectacle image which is Versailles. Was this an amateuristic choice though? I would say not.
Everything aside, “Marie Antoinette” tells an insightful story into the life of the young and hated queen that was Marie Antoinette.
Do we sympathize with the young queen? Absolutely not. Should we? Possibly, but we aren’t made out to. Could anyone really feel for her after watching her spend tons of her nation’s money while her people starve and riot? It’s nearly impossible.
Where emotion lacks in this film, style exceeds. Herein lies Coppola’s strength: capturing the pristine beauty of court life during Louis XVI’s reign through costumes, props and sets. Was this a bad choice, though? We’ll leave that up to the film scholars to decide.
Arresting in image and style, complete with an ever-so rebellious anachronistic soundtrack, “Marie Antoinette” captures the accuracy of life at Versailles, but fails to fully immerse the audience in the problems that existed behind the “pouf.”