With this third film, we can begin to see the themes emerging in the work of writer/director Sofia Coppola. Again, she has given us the story of a sensitive, vulnerable young woman trying to find a place and some meaning in an incomprehensible environment. In her last film, Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson was a dislocated young American wife and former philosophy major drifting in Tokyo. In the first, The Virgin Suicides, Kirsten Dunst was one of five young sisters lost in the scary world outside their home. In this one, Coppola returns to Dunst as the title character, the Austrian princess married to a French prince at age 14 and executed by guillotine along with her husband and children.
On her first morning in France, she is informed that she will be dressed and attended to every morning by the titled ladies in waiting. As she stands, naked and shivering while they sort out whose rank entitles her to bring her clothes, she laughs nervously, but acquiesces. She has been raised to do as she is told. Everyone stands around and watches as she eats her dinner. There is a constant crowd around her like that cell phone commercial with the enormous network.
As Marie Antoinette is urged, with increasingly less diplomacy, to make sure her shy husband consummates the marriage, she tries to do her best for Austria, for her mother, for everyone. She finds some diversion in what today would be called retail therapy. But she finds her greatest happiness in the smallish Petit Trianon, pretending to be an ordinary mother.
Coppola’s characteristically impeccable sense of detail ensures that every bow on every shoe, every dot of frosting on every bon-bon, every shot of Dunst’s creamy dimples, just right. She courts controversy with glimpses of modernity and a contemporary soundtrack, but it works well — a sort of John Hughes movie, The Breakfast Club Part 2: A Semester at Versailles.
But that’s not a bad take on this story of two teenagers whose response to the death of the king was “We are too young to reign.”
Parents should know that the film has some mature material, including non-sexual nudity, discussions of impotence and (non-explicit) portrayal of an affair. A child dies (off-camera). The executions are not depicted, but it is clear what is going to happen.
Families who see this movie should talk about what Marie Antoinette wanted and why. Given the extensive traditions of the court, what could she and Louis have done to prevent the revolution? Did this film make you sympathetic to them? How?