Friday, October 20, 2006

A self-fulfilling prophecy.

When I walked out of an advance screening of Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou two years ago, I remember thinking "So this is what all his detractors saw in his earlier films." Precocious and two-dimensional, Anderson made the (perfecto) art direction and (flawless) soundtrack do all the heavy-lifting and couldn't be bothered with little things like, you know, a well-formed script or compelling characters. That said, Zissou isn't without its moments--even though it's done nothing to really merit it, I still get choked up when I see that Jaguar Shark/"In twelve years, he'll be eleven and a half"/Sigur Ros scene--it's just a huge let down.

Leaving Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette earlier this evening, I felt the same way. While The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation were impeccably-stylized and heartfelt shards of melancholy filmmaking, Marie Antoinette is... well, just what Coppola's critics have always maintained: a series of fashionable and pretty sequences, set to an excellent soundtrack, without an ounce of characterization or depth.

As many critics have noted, the first hour--documenting how a naive Austrian princess became the dauphine of France--is fine; Coppola's pop-lyricism meshes nicely with Chateau Versailles. The much-touted use of contempty music works surprisingly well and everything looks gorgeous. But as the film progresses, it's as if Sofia's lost any sense of rhythm or pace and can't be bothered to further develope her lead character. She starts frantically adding political elements, rushing through biographical bits, all in a last minute sprint to the end. Considering how many languid sequences of Marie exploring the grounds of Versailles we've sat through, it's odd to see the birth and death of a child take up a minute of screen time.

It's not that I'm demanding historical fidelity or a more political film--hardly. I think it's a smart move for Coppola to isolate us with Marie in this opulent cocoon, away from reality. I just wish that when reality, in the form of pissed off and starving masses, descended upon the chateau it had more of a punch. And if you're going to make a film entirely from Marie's POV, you've got to give you actress more than what's been given to poor Kirsten Dunst. There's no doubt that Kiki certainly looks the part, and as long as she's frolicking in a field at dawn, Aphex Twin on the soundtrack, all is well. But nearly every time she opens her mouth, the dialogue fails her. (It doesn't help that Ms. Dunst seems to literally chirp most of her lines; but for fear of giving fodder to the haters, I'm'a stop there.)

There are positives:
  • I will never tire of Coppola shooting golden sunlight through trees or pretty blonde women collapsing into tall grass.
  • Marianne Faithful as Marie's Mommy. That cigarette-cured voice... fuck yeah.
  • Somehow, some way, Sofia has managed to get Kevin Shields out from under his rock (again). True, his contributions are limited to two Bow Wow Wow remixes, but still. It's Kevin effing Shields, people.
  • Even though they're given next to nothing to do, it's fun to watch Molly Shannon kvetch with Shirley Henderson in insane period costumes.
  • When Marie/Kiki has her big meltdown, Coppola places the camera about four inches away from her face. It's an unexpected and ballsy move.
  • Did I mention the soundtrack?
  • Asia Argento = Best. Asia Argento with a pet monkey = better.
  • "I'm saying good-bye." Nice.

Leaving the screening, Tim nailed it when he said, "There's just no there there." Indeed. Le sigh.

4 Comments:

At 8:13 AM, Anonymous Nayiri said...

Sure, I'm a hater. In my office, I'm known as a "40-ounce of Haterade." The thing is, I don't hate irrationally. I got my reasons!

 
At 2:23 PM, Blogger Ben said...

I know you've got your reasons.
I thought of you--and Marie Antoinette--when I read this bit from Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon:
"The only genuine pleasure I recall [in The Red Balloon] that [Pascal] finds in this unsmiling and and rainy universe is when he leaves the balloon outside a tempting-looking bakery and goes in to buy a cake. The insoucience with which he does it--cake as a right, not a pleasure--impressed me a lot. A scowling grey universe relieved by pastry: That was my first impression of Paris, and of them all, it was not the farthest from the truth."
Vive la France. (Et vive la reine, Je suppose.)

 
At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Nayiri said...

Je suis un fatty.

But isn't the book fantastique?

 
At 4:39 PM, Blogger Ben said...

You're not at all a fatty, but you do understand the tranformative power of a good ├ęclair. (And yes, the book is great, but it's making me miss Paris somethin' turrible.)

 

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