Marie Antoinette

Cherchez la femme

Sofia Coppola’s new Antoinette biopic divided audiences at Cannes, here film writer Kaleem Aftab and film programmer Rod White split the difference.

Let her eat cake: Kaleem Aftab 4 stars

Sofia Coppola proved with The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation that she’s incredibly adept at showcasing female alienation. In his book A Cinema of Loneliness Robert Kolker notes that not only are all the directors he essays men but that in US cinema alienation nearly always leads to physical violence. It’s only now, through the work of Coppola building on the work of New Worlders Jane Campion and Gillian Armstrong that it has become apparent how disinterested American film has been in the lonely female.

Coppola has consistently tapped into this aspect of the female psyche like no other director. For her, alienation is felt internally, soaked up until it explodes in a release of tension, which is nearly always sexual. Coppola’s re-interpretation of Marie Antoinette takes its lead from Antonia Fraser’s revisionist biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey. In an audacious move Coppola paints Antoinette as a young girl, married off by her parents to avert war between France and Austria. More interested in fashion than etiquette, Kirstin Dunst plays Antoinette as a 21st century female hero snatched from the world of teen flicks; a flavour that is spiced by the wonderful soundtrack. A bewitching take on arranged marriage sees her disinterested husband (Jason Schwartman) fail to consummate the marriage for seven years. This vibrant film may have all the substance of a pop video montage, but Coppola is daring to try harder, her bold vision reworks formulaic, staid costume dramas for a generation brought up on MTV. What Daddy did for teenage boys in the 80s with Rumble Fish and The Outsiders, Coppola Jr is doing even better for the young ladies of the noughties.

Off with her head! Rod White 2 stars

One shouldn’t read too much into Marie Antoinette being booed off the screen by the world’s press at Cannes this year (it’s the standing ovations you need to be more wary of), but the writing was perhaps on the wall for Sofia Coppola’s tedious, vacuous, costume drama for the MTV generation, which confirms that young Ms Coppola’s career is more likely to be remembered in the manner of her father’s more recent output than that of the early films that made their name.

I’ve never quite understood the high regard Sofia Coppola would appear to be held in as a film director: her disjointed, missed opportunity of a debut, The Virgin Suicides; her oh-so-hip, vaguely dodgy, often xenophobic Lost in Translation (little more than a great piece of casting); and now, this feature-length pop promo that reaches new depths of the shallowness evident in the earlier films. And where the ‘contents of Sofia’s MP3 player’ soundtrack to Lost in Translation worked fairly well, it’s completely forced here " you know, just in case you wanted to know what she’s listening to at the moment . . .

'Let them eat cake', the young Ms Antoinette once famously said, and, as analogies go, cake is a pretty good one for this confection, where, I am told, ‘lightness’ is a virtue. And, pushing the analogy further than it really ought to go, I suspect the director was one of those kids who picked off the icing and left the rest, hoping that no one would notice . . .

General release from Fri 20 Oct.

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