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Opulent ‘Marie Antoinette’ fails to connect

Laura Miller | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

“Marie Antoinette,” written and directed by Sofia Coppola, is both a success and failure at once. It is absolutely heart-wrenching to watch – and not because of the plot line. When Kirsten Dunst bursts onto the screen, she completely embodies the decadence and sensuality of the former queen of France.

As the minutes tick by, however, and the film continues to move at the pace of Ferris Bueller’s history teacher, a gut-wrenching sadness remains. How can a movie with such marvelous music, costumes and casting fail to be moving?

The problem is that the plot line does not progress very quickly. There is something to be said for slowly taking in the artistic beauty of a film, but the paceing of the film resembles crawling on the floor of the Louvre so as not to miss the style of the parquet tiles.

The film’s strikingly powerful finale proves frustrating for the audience, as its emotional strength acts as an unfortunate reminder that the entirety of “Marie Antoinette” could have been well written and, unfortunately, was not.

Despite these failings, “Marie Antoinette” is quite historically accurate. Many of the images seen in the movies are replicas of real artifacts, paintings and buildings from Marie Antoinette’s life.

A few minor adjustments in the telling were made, but only to simplify the story, making it more accessible for audiences with little knowledge of eighteenth-century French politics.

Dunst was excellent as Marie Antoinette – one of the more redeeming aspects of the film. Not only does she seem to relish playing the spoiled aristocrat, but she wins the audience’s sympathy.

This is a significant accomplishment given the mixed reports on the historical character of Marie Antoinette. There were few familiar faces in the cast – the acting was good on the whole, but the majority of roles weren’t very demanding.

The varied soundtrack is by far one of the most interesting aspects of the film. It blends more familiar modern music, such as Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy,” with classical tracks like “Opus 23.”

The modern music does not take away from the more classical aspects of the film, nor does the classical music bore any pop-culture-savvy viewer. Both genres are combined with cinematographically unique imagery, making these sequences enjoyable to watch.

The costumes undoubtedly add to the beauty created by the music and cinematography. Marie Antoinette’s costumes are incredibly ornate and vast in number, a fitting tribute to the legend of the historical figure herself.

The other costumes are equally beautiful, contributing to an aura of overwhelming wealth most typical of European royalty.

The only downside to such fantastic costuming is that it is frequently distracting, seemingly apparently to even the director. The film loses its emotional power due to the overwhelming emphasis on Marie’s attire.

Dialogue frequently becomes obsolete, with the film devolving into shot after shot of shoes, dresses and textiles. While this film certainly is up to Academy Award standards for costume design, it seems that the only reason for the movie’s creation was to win this sort of acclaim.

While the beginning of the film drags due to this obsession with costuming, the end of the film is beautiful, leaving audiences with a feeling of validation for seeing the entire picture.

It is a notable flaw, however, that Coppola’s film lacks the ability to draw any significant amount of emotional power until the last 30 minutes. Sadly, “Marie Antoinette” could have easily been shortened to an hour without losing any of its dramatic aspects.