Cinephile Report: Marie Antoinette Directed by Sophia Coppola

So far 2006 is turning out to be a most bizarre year for films and their critical acceptance. Almost all of my favorite flicks this year are loved by one half the critics and considered career blunders by the other half.

I'm a fan of Lost In Translation but I wasn't sure if it was Bill Murray or Sophia Coppola who made the magic happen in that match up.

But thanks to her past films I was immediately interested to see what Sophia Coppola would do with a punk rock, modern reference laced retelling of the story of famed monarch, Marie Antoinette, especially after hearing it was boo'd at it's premiere in Cannes.

The film is slow but we are rewarded for our time with some really sumptuous visuals, great costumes and the true beauty of the Palace of Versailles. (Trivia: It was the first film production given permission to shoot inside the palace.)

Kirsten Dunst gives her best performance since Interview With A Vampire as the teenage girl thrown into a political marriage with the prince of France. Marie struggles to seduce her awkward husband so she can produce a son and solidify her place and her country's place in the French Royal family and it's in this fight where the meat of the role lies .

Dunst, in a strong and subtle performance plays her as a sensible young women levelheaded against the catty gossip of the aristocracy while still being innocent and distracted.

Historians have been cruel to the film and it's performances but I feel they are missing the point and perspective of Coppola's vision entirely.

The film, complete with a few modern 80's punk soundtrack choices, zeros in on the mind set of Marie Antoinette. She is simply a teenage girl thrown into circumstances that result in her becoming the Queen during a time of opulence where there is a dangerous ignorance to the world outside the palace walls.

Coppola completely eliminates the stuffy constrictions of period films and gives us real teenagers who get drunk, like to shop, have crushes and who, despite their social rank, think the rituals of the monarchy are a bit much. She never takes this relaxed structure too far and it always seems to support her characters and situations.

It's about time someone injected some life into the tired Euro-period film genre. Coppola allows us to finally connect with the characters in a period piece and takes them out of a staunch historical framework and makes them into living, breathing people.

The film suffers a bit of pacing issues but make strong choices especially with it's simple understated ending. I never found the modern references anything but exciting and essential to the realistic teenage wavelength that the film rides on.

Pretty, punchy and poignant, this film may not be everyone's cup of tea but it's certainly unique and beautiful.

Go ahead, eat the cake. It's pretty damn good.

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