Sofia Coppola’s MARIE-ANTOINETTE (2006) is an utterly unique depiction of a real life historical figure, yet portrayed in such a way that is tender, modern, and strangely relatable. The film’s soundtrack is powerful because of its perfect mixture of contemporary as well as classical music, allowing the viewer to place Marie-Antoinette (perfectly incarnated by an electric Kirsten Dunst) in our more immediate visualisation of her coming-of-age. Becoming the dauphine of France at only 14 years old and subsequently spending the next 8 years being vilified and pressured for not being able to conceive a child, meant that for her entire puberty and teenage years, Marie-Antoinette was already held to harsh expectations for even a grown adult woman, both physically and mentally.
Marie-Antoinette comes of age before our eyes, and Coppola’s filming of her 21st birthday may just be one of the most intimate portrayals of a larger-than-life historical figure’s experience of that specific period at that age, translated into terms that are tenderly relatable for a contemporary audience. Once again, the music is key to this, as Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden” plays over many scenes of indulgence and decadence, or some gentle, classic songs by The Strokes create the exact atmosphere of coming-of-age related confusion and depth of emotion. What is so delicious about the choice of music for this specific story, is that the audience can quite easily picture Marie-Antoinette’s own coming-of-age, her sheer joy and excitement of excess and disregard for rules, but also her pain and embarrassment for not meeting requirements and expectations placed upon her, against her will.
Childish drama and games are a wonderful constant throughout the film, as they are both entirely believable as well as highly entertaining to imagine the queen of France having to either deal with who is or isn’t speaking to whom, or attending a disguised party. This world of lavishness and pettiness only underlines the bubble in which she operates, and the importance of small thrills that help the dauphine escape the dreary and cruel world that can be the high court of royalty. Our dauphine in fact needs constant reminding and reprimanding about her excessive spending, which ultimately leads to her demise in popular culture, and fuels the hatred of her persona amongst the French populace.
When push comes to shoving themselves into their getaway carriage, we see a strong woman, made to act years beyond those she would never reached. The final shot shows an early morning Jardin de Versailles, set against the gentle cords of Dustin O’Halloran’s “Opus 36”. Only we know that their attempt to escape the angry crowds of Paris will end up being just that, a failed attempt, cut short at the town of Vincennes. I will be forever grateful to this film, for depicting a woman’s experience on an individual level, a woman in history, usually remembered symbolically as the reason for the demise of France’s monarchy. No, Coppola did not allow her Marie-Antoinette to be so one dimensional – this rendition of the historical figure is mysteriously close to us, in her looks, in her gluttonous greed, in her overwhelmed impossibility to ever be mature and rigid enough to abide by the rules that came with being a Queen of France. In fact, we are even enabled to relate to her life, her worries and pain whilst being in an incredibly public position. She feels exposed, and we feel it too.
Dunst’s performance in this film is otherworldly, and yet it is also the key factor that brings her Marie-Antoinette to life – emotional, exploding, electric life. She is what we remember after the credits roll, after bringing the depth of childlike playfulness from a younger dauphine, through to her more sensual liveliness that comes through later as a young woman. But as fate would have it, Marie-Antoinette never had the chance to act her age, with too little time to be young, and never being within reach of what it meant to be old.