At university, our creative-writing tutors would often encourage us to write what we know, or “dig where we stand”… which is probably a good place to start, but if you stick too doggedly to that strategy there’s always the danger that you’ll end up at the bottom of a deep hole, with nothing but your own voice echoing back at you. To date I have seen three separate Sofia Coppola joints – a short film titled “Life Without Zoe” (co-written and directed by her father) which formed part of the New York Stories anthology (1989), the Hollywood-set snooze-fest Somewhere (2010), and most recently the irreverent period-piece Marie Antoinette (2006) – which are all set in very different times and locales, but still seem to about the same damn thing: A rich white girl rattling around in a gilded cage, riddled with ennui. Which isn’t necessarily a “bad” subject for a movie… but the stories are told in such a mind-numbingly boring and superficial style, that I have a hard time stopping my socialist knee from jerking.
In theory, it should be perfectly possible to sympathise with the title character, a 14-year-old Austrian princess sent to a strange country to marry a man she’s never met (Louis XVI of France), in order to seal an alliance between their two uneasy nations… but the potential trauma/drama of her first border crossing, during which she’s divested of any reminders of her homeland (including her friends, clothes, and a pet pug!), is rather undermined by the fact that the “teenage” girl is being played by a 24-year-old actress (Kirsten Dunst). And The Curse of Compression is in full effect, as a quarter-century of the character’s life is bashed through in two hours, with one of the most epic upheavals in French history reduced to little more than a footnote.
While it’s probably true that Antoinette never literally spoke the words “Let them eat cake!”, this movie does suggest that she was quite content to gobble pastries, guzzle champagne, and fawn over shiny shoes, while the country’s poorest citizens suffered and starved off-screen. We see her visiting Paris to attend operas and masked balls, but never to visit the destitute or disaffected. There’s a vague reference to her supporting several charities, but only in the context of how her over-spending on luxury items meant that she wouldn’t be able to make any donations that month. I don’t have a firm enough grasp on history to say whether the real Antoinette could have done anything to avert her fate, but as a fictional character she is sorely lacking in agency, ambition, and awareness… so the whole movie feels like an affectless montage, that slips from your memory like a listless sigh. Meh.
P.S. Here’s a pre-emptive parody trailer for Coppola’s next project, an adaptation of The Little Mermaid, starring AnnaSophia Robb and Evan Peters. Fun!