Vive la Reine

As a little girl, I somehow came to expect that any historical figure I would encounter would be easily classified as either “good” or “bad.” Marie Antoinette, the queen of France, exemplified the exception to this rule. I always knew she was put to death by guillotine; I never heard exactly why. Was I supposed to feel sorry for her, or did she get what she deserved? Even after a visit to Versailles, Marie Antoinette’s true nature eluded me.

“Let them eat cake”—it sounded like a nice thing to say.*

Sofia Coppola’s film was, for me, an entertaining means of catching up on the details of Marie Antoinette’s life that I managed to miss out on in school and during my holiday tour of her palace. I think she’s one of those people who’s so famous that everyone assumes everyone else knows all about her. But if you truly want to know all about her, and if you want to make your own decision about what kind of woman she was, the best place to go is Marie Antoinette: The Journey. Antonia Fraser’s biography is the text on which the movie was based; it reveals such fascinating details as these:

• Before leaving Austria for France, 14-year-old Marie Antoinette was married to Louis Auguste in a proxy ceremony—with her older brother, the Archduke Ferdinand, standing in for the groom.
• The women of Marie Antoinette’s family mysteriously referred to their periods as the “Generale Krottendorf.” (As in, “The Generale hasn’t visited yet this month … maybe she’s carrying a dauphin!”)
• Louis XVI remained “two-thirds of a husband” until seven years and three months into their marriage. Antoinette’s big bro Ferdinand had to talk him into finally doing it. Wow.

I suspect Sofia Coppola might agree with me that these particulars are more appealing than history’s political plot. She really nails the loneliness and awkwardness M.A. must have experienced as the newly arrived dauphine and focuses on her time at Versailles before the revolution. Though some critics have charged her with taking the easy way out, I can't blame Coppola for ending her film when she did. To give that period after the royal family was forced to leave Versailles proper attention would require a second film.

Also, the second film wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as the first. As it is, Marie Antoinette plays a lot like a two-hour music video with some dialogue thrown in for clarification; and I mean that mostly as a compliment. Since they weren’t going to a hire an all-French cast, why use only period-appropriate music? If a new wave soundtrack helps the modern audience appreciate this story that much more, bring on the New Order and Bow Wow Wow.

For the record, I don’t think anyone deserves decapitation.

P.S. Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst have a couple of super-sweet duets on the Coconut Records album, Nighttiming. Definitely worth checking out! I love the song "Summer Day."

*I am aware Marie Antoinette did not actually say this.


Noel said...

Good Schwartzmanship! Yay!