Monday, November 27, 2006

The Queen & la Reine

It was a very, very royal Thanksgiving weekend at the movies for me.

Friday was Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. I think I am genuinely in love with Kirsten Dunst, even though she sort of has vampire fangs.

However, I am not into royalty. I do not have bookshelves lined with titles like The House of Plantagenet: Anjou by Any Other Name. I mean, the Habsburg part of this saga is all very interesting (Marianne Faithfull was great in all her gravel-voiced splendor as Empress Maria Theresa) -- interesting enough to make me want to pore over a book (or at least the Wikipedia entry) on the subject.
I liked this movie a lot, but I'm not convinced it's a "Great" film. It's not exactly dialogue-driven, which can certainly be an ok thing. In terms of imagery alone, it evoked, well, a certain degree of emotion. Much of it was pure confection, but still, some of the scenes and the photography did evoke feeling. I'm ambivalent about my attitude toward M.A.: was she just a pawn born and bred for her position as a consort and producer of heirs, or, as queen, could she have taken a different tack and an interest in the affairs of her nation, preventing the downfall of the monarchy?

The film definitely doesn't even come close to answering -- or even asking -- those questions. Which is fine; it makes me want to read up on this stuff. I liked the comment by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice, who wrote, "... the filmmaker's attempt to redeem her heroine's shallowness reveals her own." I don't think Coppola was as successful in this endeavor as she was with Lost in Translation. But yet... I liked it and found myself thinking about it a lot afterward. And, needless to say, it was visually amazing: cinematography, set design, and costumes are all award-worthy.

What was best about the film was making one realize that M.A. arrived at the French court as a girl of 15 and -- even though daughter of an Empress -- was thrust into a world of byzantine protocol and luxury without bounds. What was less believable (or even touched on) about the dramatization was the fact that M.A. aged from 15 to 38 during her time at Versailles. Maybe we are meant to believe that she was equally shallow and unquestioning as a middle-aged woman as she was as a teenager, but... something was lacking in that bit of the narrative.

In addition, poor, cute Jason Schwartzman fares badly as a sort of bumbling buffoon of a dauphin/king. I know that partly reflects the historical point of view, but in the end he was more of a caricature than a character (as were many figures in the film). And WTF was Molly Shannon doing here? I guess I respect her need to have a 'career', but all I can think when I see her pinched face is "Mary Katherine."

Saturday brought on The Queen. I can't say anything gushing about Helen Mirren than hasn't already been said. I also ended up liking the film a lot more than I expected to. I was anticipating a fairly dry "television-movie-of-the-week" treatment, but definitely got carried away into it pretty deeply and quickly.

Editorial note to Stephen Frears: Honestly, I think we could have done without the Introspective Symbology of The Stag.

I couldn't help thinking about some of the similarities between E.R. and Marie Antoinette in terms of the "monarchical crises" faced by both, as well as the respective states of "The Monarchy" in general. Again, I am not a big royal watcher, but I'm not a huge anti-monarchist either. I'm mostly indifferent (but in, like, a totally class-warfare informed, Marxist-Leninist sort of way), though definitely swayed now and then by the posh spectacle of it all. (T-shirt/bumpersticker idea: "I'm not Anti-Monarchist; I Hate All of The Rich")

One thing I did realize after seeing Marie Antoinette: I am more sympathetic to the friends I have (yes... I have them... well, at least one) who seem to get all misty-eyed when speaking about The Romanovs. Those silly royals were much more than treasury-depleting, peasant-bleeding, insurrection-crushing drains on the national coffers: they were Human Beings Too! (And I am totally being Serious.)


Huntington, the 3rd Marquess Sharp said...

You know I love everything about this post.

The Angry Young Man said...

You have freinds who get misty eyed over the Romanovs?!

kusala said...

AYM: see above.

Huntington said...

Chris, you know we had at least one discussion about this while I tried to transliterate Lenin's exhortations on that one poster.

kusala said...

I was actually kidding. Maybe I actually have more than one friend who gets misty eyed regarding Nikolai & Aleksandra.