Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006) is undoubtedly the most unique and modern depiction of the last French queen’s life.
Coppola’s style is easily recognizable: long shots, few dialogues, and an overall sense of longing (take Virgin Suicides or Somewhere for example). In it, she achieved something that not a lot of movies can make us feel: while we witness the intensity of Versailles in the 18th century, this movie is also a parade of Rock’n’Roll and wild parties. Sophia Coppola achieved something rare, given that she made a historical movie (though not always historically accurate) an ode to teenagehood.
She humanized Marie Antoinette by making her more modern and more accessible. Kirsten Dunst portrays a very endearing character; the first shot is of her hugging her puppy, playing cards with friends, saying bye to them, being shy and unaccustomed to the social conventions. Her outfits also add to this feeling of innocence: the pastel colors remind the viewer of a macaron or a sweet pastry. Marie Antoinette, a distant historical figure, may seem cold or unaccessible, but instead of portraying a distant character, Coppola made her a sweet child. This gives a new hint of fresh air to the famous Queen.
As well as a new take on the character of Marie Antoinette, Coppola reinvented Versailles with her parties and celebrations. Accompanied by musics by The Cure, The Strokes and Bow Wow Wow, the 80s-inspired soundtrack also adds accessibility to the 18th-century French gatherings. By adding Rock classics to “old” music, we witness what social events would have looked like in modern times, which enables us to feel closer and to identify with the characters.
The now-infamous scene where Marie Antoinette is seen trying on a pair of shoes with Converse sneakers in the background embodies this tactic: she is depicted as a regular teen. She goes on a shopping spree, defies the authority, sneaks out at night to join a masked ball, … This shot, even if only 3-seconds long among the frenzy of pâtisseries and champagne, represents the whole spirit of the movie.
Sophia Coppola makes us feel closer to her character, and reminds us that everybody was once a kid. She used this as a pretext to showcase the ostentatious lifestyle the French aristocracy led, by linking it to today’s habits (take teenage rebellion for example). She also presents how loneliness affects people. No matter how many parties she goes to and how many dresses she buys, Marie Antoinette always ends up lonely and bored. She tries to fill that hole in her life with decadence. After all, she feels really happy when she gets to live out this illusion that she is not queen of France but a simple peasant. The scene where she picks up eggs with her daughter and wild strawberries with her friends show us how simple the character is, and complex as well. This wish to live in the countryside, oustide of Versailles and the pretentiousness of the court shows us how Marie Antoinette is still a child at heart.
The movie and the issues it raises echoes today’s problems. People nowadays are closer and further than ever because of the rise of technology; loneliness is widespread in current societies. More and more, people and nature is the one thing people go back to, because wealth and fame are not what fuels. In the end, Marie Antoinette dedicates herself to her kids and her “little countryside”.
Sophia Coppola operates a metaphor for today’s world by depicting a bored and lonely queen who takes refuge in splendor, lovers and consumption. With this twist in the historical movie, a sense of longing resonates; was it better before?
The last line of the movie is significant: when Louis 16th asks her “Are you admiring your lime avenue?”, Marie Antoinette replies, “I’m saying goodbye.”. After all the parties and the money spent, what’s left is not material wealth, it is human relations.