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Marie Antoinette (3/10)

by Tony Medley

You can learn many things if you stay alert during a movie. Tonight, for example, I discovered that there are 9 small lights on the floor at the end of the back row of the first section; that there were only eight people sitting in the entire first section; that the guy behind me hadn’t bathed in a week.

There are many other fine tidbits I could pass along about how I spent my time last night. Get the picture? If Sofia Coppola isn’t the queen of slow, she’s the princess of bore. I got that message with “Lost in Translation,” (2003) but she proves it with this biopic of the last French Queen, based on a book by Antonia Fraser. If you want to know what superficial is, see this film. Coppola also wrote the script, but the script couldn’t be more than ten pages in length because there isn’t much dialogue, and what dialogue there is consists of things like Marie saying, “There must be something we can do to relieve their suffering,” when told that the Frenchies had a quality of life that was barely above zero.

Want an example of slow and boring? Many abound. There’s a scene of Marie and two of her courtiers walking up a huge flight of steps that look as if they are as tall as UCLA’s Janss Steps (95 brick steps leading up from the Men’s Gym to the main part of campus). We see them walk up the entire flight, which takes at least a minute, if not longer. There is not one iota of reason for this scene, except to take up time.

She throws in a gratuitous shot of Marie’s lover, the Swedish Count Fersen (Jamie Dornan), on a horse dressed up like Napoleon (who was only 20 at the time of the storming of the Bastille in 1989, which is the time period of the film as Marie lost her head in 1893), rearing his horse up on its backlegs like the famous painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps by Jacques Louis David. If there’s a point here, it was beyond me.

Of course, that occurs in about the last ten minutes of the film. The first one hour 35 minutes may be summed up by a line that Sofia penned herself (although she took it from the diary of King Louis XVI, played as a fool by Jason Schwartzman). Describing the wedding night, someone says, “Nothing happened,” which is an apt epitaph for this film.

Although she’s been in more than her share of dogs (“Elizabethtown,” 2005, “Mona Lisa Smile,” 2003, and The Spider-man cartoons; I know they weren’t cartoons, they just look, play, sound like, and have the intellectual level of, cartoons), she has been in some films I enjoyed, like 2004’s “Wimbledon,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I actually liked her in “Marie Antoinette.” But the film is so shallow that even an actress I like can’t save it.

That said, Dunst is a charter member of the Sean Penn School. Her crying scene sans tears looks almost like she’s laughing. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it many, many times; if your actor can’t cry tears on cue, cut the crying scenes.

The only reason this doesn’t get the lowest rating possible is because it is a very good travelogue, since Coppola was given unusual access to film at Versailles, and the other locations are gorgeous. They don’t justify having to sit through this turkey, though. Because of “Lost in Translation,” Sofia’s name was already on my “avoid” list. Now it’s irremovable. I don’t’ think anyone who could pen and direct movies like the ones for which she has been responsible could ever understand pace. Despite its sumptuous production design (KK Barrett) and cinematography (Lance Acord), this is grotesquely superficial, slow, and boring.

October 17, 2006