Sunday, April 22, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: Marie Antoinette

Directed by Sofia Coppola

Line that stays with me:  “Did you hear that, she just burped”

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together.

Sofia Coppola’s $40 million film of “Marie Antoinette” has a mediocre reputation. I for one do not know why. Some were turned off by her use of new wave and post punk music. Others detested the creative liberties she used to tell a historical story. None of those things bother me. I feel this film was made for a certain type of people and I am pretty sure Sofia Coppola knew this as well. Like her father, Sofia was not afraid to take an expensive risk to make her vision a reality. Besides do we really need another standard period piece film with nothing new to offer but fresh film stock? In six years it is crazy how things have changed so much in this world that I have to explain the “energy” the movie was bursting with. I do not like the label hipster but that was the movement at the time. After bands like “The Strokes” and “The Killers” brought back post punk and new wave in a major way, films like Sofia’s “Lost in Translation” truly captured the beauty and feeling of that time. I look at Marie Antoinette as the eulogy to those times. The last hurrah before it became lame and everybody starting wearing jackets and jeans again. There is nothing like enjoying a time and place to its fullest potential, a lesson this film delivers wonderfully. Time will always change everything around you and in a result it will either make you smile with the joy that you took advantage of every minute or sigh with eternal regret. Marie Antoinette has various moments that remind us, we are only human and life goes on, it is not all about you.  I love at the end of the film how tranquil Marie Antoinette is as she says goodbye to the palace. She says it with the maturity of someone who knows that a certain time in her life has come and gone.

Let’s get some discourse out the way. In my travels I have spoken to many struggling and striving filmmakers. Many of them dislike Sofia Coppola and I wish it was for a good reason but it is not. Usually they hate her work because her father is Francis Ford Coppola, which is a weak reason to pontificate. They say “Oh she only got to make her movies because of her daddy”…..and? So what? If you had a daughter and had the money to finance her films, you would do that. Sad jealousy will get you nowhere. She has one over you and, that’s life, so what. However, that sort of conversation adds another beautiful layer to Sofia’s Coppola “Marie Antoinette”. Filmmakers like Sofia Coppola like to tell stories they can relate to personally. “Marie Antoinette” is the perfect story for Sofia to tell. Marie Antoinette was born into a life of royalty; Sofia Coppola was born into a life of Hollywood royalty. We all remember Sofia in Godfather 3. Her whole life has been one long tour of the behind scenes of showbiz. I am sure Sofia knows what it is like to be pampered as a child, like Marie Antoinette was. Probably also knows how one can get bored of the lavish affluent life and its many trappings. She knows what it is like to be criticized in the newspapers, (her performance in the Godfather) she is used to hearing nasty rumors, just like Marie Antoinette had to deal with. Many people claim they can handle that sort of life but that is just something that is easier said than done. You don’t know what you would do till you are there.

One of the reasons people believe they can handle a life in the spotlight is because they are assuming that these famous people know the same life lessons they have learned throughout their lives. I love how in the beginning this film makes it clear that that is not the case. Marie Antoinette was born into that sort of lifestyle, which is all she knew. She didn’t know what’s it’s like to save money, that’s not how she was raised. Everything was given to her and she was told that’s how the rest of her life was going to be. That was her reality and the reality we are born into will direct the course of our lives.  By visually explaining that fact you can’t help but fall for Marie Antoinette’s story. And what a crazy story it is. All great films must make the audience instantly get concerned about the characters situation. Conflict, suspense, and the hope that the filmmaker asks you; what would you do in that person’s shoes?  In “Marie Antoinette” those sorts of moments happen constantly. Marie Antoinette has to abide to ridiculous morning routines, forced to conceive a child with a boy who has not yet become a man, and lastly becoming a young queen. What the hell does this young woman know about ruling a country? It shows how amazing and ridiculous we human beings have been in the past. Makes me feel great, especially when I hear all the nonsense politicians spew, I know history will do its job and reveal how primitive we still are. Only difference from Marie Antoinette’s time and ours is that it’s easier to communicate with each other, it’s easier to put our clothes on in the morning, and men wear less makeup.

Filmmakers who still like to tell their stories through images are a dying breed. Filmmakers these days put more thought into “cool sounding dialog” and special effects. At the end of the day that leaves us with ugly looking films with cool moments and almost nothing to discover.  I love watching films that offer powerful images and I am not being told what to think, but to just think. It is a great opportunity for reflection and self-evaluation. Now I understand, not all movies have to be like this (read my Commando essay) but when this happens it is my favorite kind of movie magic. Perfect film moments that use almost every art form you can think of to get their message across. The mastery of film and music is one of those things that drive me wild. It has made some filmmakers into heroes. Whether it’s Woody Allen and his jazz selections or Martin Scorsese perfectly using a Rolling Stones song, the blend of popular music with powerful images is a true skill. Sofia Coppola’s use of music in this film is extraordinary. She displays moments of mellon collie without any dialog and other times she amazes us like the scene of the masked ball where you watch royalty dance to Bow Wow Wow’s "Aphrodisiac". In that scene you can’t tell the difference from present time and theirs. It looks like a costume party, and that brings a smile to my face. Most films show that time in history with an uptight attitude, like they were never truly human but only characters in a bad play called history. This film reminds us they were just like us, just a different time, with different ideals.

As I stated before I don’t understand people’s hate for this film. If anything it offers beauty on such a constant level that it is worth watching for that reason alone. From beautiful locations, costumes, colorful makeup, wild hair designs, the list is long. All of that would be worthless under a director with less care, but if there is one thing Sofia Coppola knows and that’s how to work a frame. Obviously she was taught by one of the best, her father, who believes in filling the frame. You don’t usually see films like this anymore because it costs more to fill the frame and, it takes more dedication. Sofia Coppola doesn’t only find the best possible angle for a specific scene she fills the frame to the point where your eyes have to keep up. It is a great approach and makes you excited to watch the film again to find what you might have missed.  These are shots that need no explanation but make you feel something instantly, if you watch this film at the right time in your life. It is this layer of cinematic grace that makes her films special compared to films that just get by. I can only imagine all the hard work that went into making those shots work. Sofia Coppola’s dedication made me fall for Marie Antoinette’s story, visually it told me everything I needed to know and it was never objective.  Sofia simply presented to us an isolated view of a group of human beings who were on this earth over 200 years ago living their lives according to the times. Sofia Coppola’s grand idea accesses the simple pure feelings of being human. It puts a scope on life and the inescapability of pitfalls in our lives. That sort of truth brings a sense of peace to my heart, like hey “It’s Okay”.  Yep, life, the story continues but sometimes as history demonstrates we human beings have lived through some interesting strange times.  

ABOUT RCM: Rutz Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: David Cronenberg's Naked Luch



  1. Excellence. Loved your take on S.C.'s style and I think you nailed it, visual directors, with a firm grasp of ALL types of Cinema, who let the medium speak in its own language are few and far between. Coppola, Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze come to mind immediately, but like all artists who temporarily resonate with the masses, they are eventually turned on as passe and inconsequential when Hollywood finds The Next Big Thing.

    1. Yep, that's the way it is, but I am glad that these filmmakers fight hard to get their projects made, in the end, when it is all said and done, their filmography will be the last laugh.

  2. Great article. I haven't seen this movie yet but after reading this article I now will. I really liked “Lost in Translation” so I don't know why I didn't bother going to this one. BTW, do you still go to the movie theatre?


    1. Thanks and thank you for reading the essay. I can't remember the last time I went to a movie theatre. I love Blu-Rays and Netflix. I miss going to the movies but most movies that come out these days are not worth the money. This fall I am sure I will make a trip due to the fact that Paul Thomas Anderson is releasing a film and so is Quentin Tarantino.

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