- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

CANNES, France

“Marie Antoinette,” the long-awaited movie from Oscar-winning director Sofia Coppola, was booed here yesterday, dismissed as a kind of Barbie-meets-“Desperate Housewives” romp.

Despite being beautifully filmed in the Versailles palace and backed by a rollicking soundtrack with the likes of such ‘80s bands as the Cure and Bow Wow Wow, the film largely failed to live up to expectations.

More than two centuries after France’s last queen was beheaded in 1793, Marie Antoinette still raises opposing passions among the French. Though many critics enjoyed the luscious feast for the eyes, they said the tale was not convincing.

The $40 million movie, starring Kirsten Dunst in the title role, is light-years from the beautifully understated “Lost in Translation,” which won Miss Coppola the 2004 Oscar for best original screenplay.

“I feel in my three films, there’s a kind of a connection, a theme of young women trying to find their way and their identity, and to me it just feels like the last chapter of these three films,” Miss Coppola told journalists.

Marie Antoinette arrives at Versailles at age 14 for her marriage to the dauphin (who becomes Louis XVI when his father dies), but she is quickly lost and stifled by the court’s rigid etiquette.

Meanwhile, the couple’s ignorance of sex means the marriage is not consummated for seven years, causing concern in both the French and Austrian courts desperate for an heir to secure the alliance.

To relieve the boredom, the teenage Marie gives in to her natural, youthful exuberance, seduced by fabulous clothes, opulent balls and mountains of cream cakes.

Miss Coppola’s film is as fluffy and light as the many macaroons consumed by the courtiers — complete with sumptuous costumes and delightful shoes provided by Manolo Blahnik, internationally noted shoemaker to the well-heeled.

As eye-pleasing as it is, the movie never manages to overcome its MTV video-clip feel, and its attempts to redeem Marie Antoinette as she matures and becomes a mother — including having her read French philosopher Rousseau — come across as shallow.

Miss Coppola’s cousin Jason Schwartzman, who plays Louis XVI, is like a nervous rabbit caught in the glare of the camera. At the end, as Marie Antoinette and Louis are seen leaving Versailles after the storming of the palace, the film received some applause, but that was drowned out by the boos.

“It’s a bit of a Barbie Antoinette,” notes Sophie Torlotin of the French radio network RFI, who said she liked the film overall. “It’s a beautiful object, but I was not touched,” Miss Torlotin said.

Said Jean Luc Wachthausen, among several journalists from the French daily newspaper Figaro: “We would have liked a more polished script, it lacks a bit of depth. It’s a beautiful film, but not satisfying.”

Asked if her film was a bit like “Desperate Housewives,” Miss Coppola said she had never seen the prime-time ABC soap about the secret lives of several women who reside on the show’s fictional and picturesque Wisteria Lane.

“But yeah, I thought there’s this lonely wife whose husband is not paying any attention to her so she’s staying out partying and going shopping,” the filmmaker said. “We’ve all heard that story before. I thought it was interesting to see what this search for all this frivolity was really coming from.”

Told about the hostile reaction, Miss Coppola admitted that it was disappointing but said: “I think it’s better to get a reaction that people either really like it or don’t like it than a mediocre response.”

“For the first half an hour, I really enjoyed it, and then I found that it wasn’t uninteresting, but it wasn’t very interesting either,” said Variety critic Lisa Nesselson. “But I was surprised that half, or a third of the theater, booed.”

“Marie Antoinette” is only the third feature-length movie by Miss Coppola, 35. Her father, famed director Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather”), took a back seat at the press conference.

“For me the biggest challenge was making something on this scale, with a much bigger crew than I’ve ever worked with, extras and so many costumes,” Miss Coppola said.

But with several strong movies (among the 20 in competition) already touted as possible contenders for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest honor, it would seem unlikely that Miss Coppola’s offering will replace Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver” as the critics’ top choice.

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