- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

“Let them eat cake,” Marie Antoinette reportedly said when French peasants complained of a bread shortage.

The queen never spoke those infamous words. Neither has Sofia Coppola. But in releasing her latest film, “Marie Antoinette,” she may as well have.

On the surface, the film is a frothy confection, a two-hour-long piece of eye candy impossible not to savor.

Milena Canonero dresses the court in creative, eye-catching costumes. Manolo Blahnik offers a collection of sumptuous shoes most certainly fit for a queen. Champs-Elysees eatery Laduree provides a jaw-dropping set of cakes and pastries. Cinematographer Lance Acord brightly captures the blues, pinks and yellows of one of the most spendthrift courts in history, while production designer K.K. Barrett’s impressive work was likely made a bit easier when the French government agreed to let Miss Coppola film in Versailles.

“Marie Antoinette” certainly looks good; but the film is, unfortunately, like one of those sickly sweet cakes that look better than they taste.

Kirsten Dunst, the star of Miss Coppola’s debut “The Virgin Suicides,” plays the Austrian archduchess married to the future King Louis XVI (“Rushmore’s” Jason Schwartzman) at age 14. The dimpled Miss Dunst is beguiling as the sheltered girl who must leave behind everything family, friends, even the clothes on her back — when she enters France.

“It is a custom that a bride retain nothing from a foreign court,” explains the Comtesse de Noailles (“Life With Judy Garland’s” Judy Davis).

Maria Antonia thus becomes Marie Antoinette. It’s a coming of age story, a lesson in political and personal intrigue, even, almost, a love story — all of which are timeless. Miss Coppola reinforces the universality of her tale with more than a handful of modern touches. A Converse high-top sneaker appears, just for a few seconds, in a pile of shoes, for example.

In between Rameau and Couperin are lodged 1980s new wave and alternative tracks by such bands as New Order and the Cure. Miss Coppola learned from movies like 2001’s “A Knight’s Tale” that the fastest way to the emotional heart of moviegoers is pop music. Starting the movie with Gang of Four’s “Natural’s Not in It” (starting lyric: “The problem of leisure / What to do for pleasure”) seems like a stroke of genius, if what Miss Coppola wanted was to make the story of the 18th-century queen understandable to a young audience.

The director’s previous films, “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation,” explored young women’s search for identity. She suggests that Marie Antoinette was just a lonely teenager who couldn’t resist getting caught up in the culture of celebrity.

The first third of the film is the most compelling, as it explores how the young princess’s marriage for many years teetered on destruction. The product of an arranged marriage, the union took years to consummate, despite the girl’s desperate attempts to ensure her position.

—But once Marie Antoinette has the one thing she truly needs a child and eventual heir — the film has nowhere to go. What started out as a character study devolves in tableaux of gambling, shopping and lovemaking that waste one of the year’s best casts — besides Miss Davis, there’s Rip Torn as Louis XV and Steve Coogan as the Austrian ambassador. In the process, the generic monarch loses all sympathy, and Miss Coppola’s film ends up being all style, no soul.


TITLE: “Marie Antoinette”

RATING: PG-13 (some sexual situations)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Loosely based on the biography by Antonia Fraser.

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sonypictures



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