Marie Antoinette


Every single person I come across seems to hate this movie. It’s “silly.” It’s “weird.” It’s “NOT HISTORICALLY ACCURATE!”

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While I don’t think the film is a stunner like “Lost in Translation,” it did rock my world on several levels.

First of all, I wish the humourless drones harping on about various inaccuracies would lighten the hell up. This isn’t a period piece. It takes the lush landscape of the doomed court at Versailles and subverts it. It exists in a time of its own. The timeline largely concerns itself with the history of emotions, rather than with a history of events. People who missed out on that crucial bit of information and are bursting at the seams with righteous indignation ought to take a chill pill. Or a chill suppository.

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There are too many lingering close-ups of Kirsten Dunst’s dimpled, dreamy face, sure. But one thing that Sofia Coppola does as well here as she did in “Lost in Translation” is capturing memory as it is created. The weak sunlight on the morning that the Austrian princess is “handed over” to the French; tinkling champagne glasses; snatches of conversation; the baby dauphin sobbing on the morning of the departure from Versailles; this is what a person’s individual history is really made of. This film is both personal and ironic in its portrayal of an individual’s long-gone existence, hence the lack of oppressive melodrama that so many other people have taken to be silly.

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The modern music and dialogue, as well as the kaleidoscope of what we would now refer to as consumerist indulgence, are particularly touching because, in a way, little has changed. Pretty teenage girls still shop for uncomfortable, overpriced shoes with their girlfriends, while someone somewhere is starving, being killed, being oppressed. And Marie Antoinette’s inability to escape being blamed in the end (the film largely glosses over the way in which the nobles themselves hated her, although it does include a memorable display of collective disdain toward the end) is something we can, and should, explore further. It’s the old Dostoevskian conundrum: Who is guilty? Aren’t we all?

If people come to kill me tomorrow because today I drank wine and ate bon-bons while the people of Darfur were dying, I will look as stricken and surprised as that doomed last queen. I don’t know how to be someone I’m not, and neither, I suppose, did Marie Antoinette. I can only be glad that my privilege is lesser, and that I am, on the whole, unimportant in general.


Natalia Antonova

Natalia is a writer and journalist. She's the associate editor of openDemocracy Russia and the co-founder of the Anti-Nihilist Institute.