Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Marie Antoinette


Today on the radio we heard a story about the Ferrari motorcar company. One popular model sells for $200,000 … but you have to wait two years to get one. That is frightening enough in itself, that there are that many people ready to spend that kind of money for what is really just a toy car, of no practical use whatsoever. But the capper was that you could buy one on eBay or suchlike … for $300,000. “I’m not gonna wait two years, mommy, I want my car, and I want it NOW!!!

Unlimited wealth almost always degrades the fabulously wealthy, almost as much as it degrades the poor slobs the unlimited wealth was stolen from. You see it throughout history, in Rome, in China, in Thailand, in Vatican City, in pre-Revolutionary France, probably in Timbuk-fucking-tu. In George W. Bush’s America. (You think I’m exaggerating? Check out the spending sprees indulged in by Kenny Lay before the bottom fell out of Enron.)

But don’t we love to watch these fabulously wealthy people! How many times has this story been told in the movies? Hundreds, I’m sure, but seldom with the lubricious attention to the details of joyous self-degradation as in this movie. The IMDb tells me the budget was $40,000,000, not much for these times. I figured it breaks down to about $30,000,000 for costumes, $5,000,000 for shoes, and $5,000,000 for desserts. (Let them eat cake? Christ, there was enough cake on display to feed France for a decade.)

I don’t suppose it’s really possible to hate Marie Antoinette. She was married at 15, beheaded at 38, and had no more idea of what the streets of Paris were like than a butterfly knows the backside of the moon. No one in Versailles had much of a clue, except maybe the accountants who knew the royal family was spending beyond even their vast stolen wealth. These people had no lives, basically. Useless as tits on a boar hog, as someone said. By the end of this interminable examination of empty lives, I had built my own guillotine from scrap lumber and was honing the blade and weaving the bucket to receive the heads of nobility. Alas, there was no such payoff. The film ends with Louis and Marie fleeing. We never see their comeuppance.

I suppose I know why Sofia Coppola made this movie, but that doesn’t mean I forgive her, just as I don’t forgive her for almost single-handedly ruining The Godfather, Part III. (“Daddy, I want to be an actress!”) Ooh, that was catty, I know, but she is a child of privilege. One opinion on the film had it that Sofia was drawing parallels with her own life … though just what she meant to show escapes me. Do the rich suffer? Of course they do. Marie lost two children young. We see her humiliated by an examination of her hymen, we see her basically sold to France to cement an alliance, we see her stifled by the incredible idiocies of the Royals. But every time I am shown something like that I see instead the woman lying in the gutter in Paris, who has lost seven children young, who is syphilitic because whoring is the only profession open to her, dying slowly and painfully instead of having her head neatly lopped off. Give me a story of the proletariat every time. I don’t really fucking care about the problems of the rich. Bottom line, I want a seat right up close to the blade, I want to toss rotten cabbages and see the blue blood spurt.

In the end, although I know I shouldn’t, I kept coming back to Sofia and who she is. She strikes me very much as a dabbler, like Marie playing at being a peasant in her cozy little 9-room cottage. Mucking about in the goose shit in her finery. Maybe she raises a nice little crop of tomatoes once in a while ({Lost in Translation}}), but then she’ll raise a rotten turnip. Who cares? Daddy will pay. (Produced by … guess who?) I hate turnips.

One more thing that narked me: She was allowed unprecedented access to Versailles, and most of the other rockpiles of Europe … and she produces this? It must be said that the movie is a feast for the eyes. Yummy food, gorgeous locations, thousands of costumes. (We saw a selection of the dresses at the fashion museum downtown, and they are stunning.) So what does she do with it all? She backs it up with the most hideously jarring musical score I’ve ever heard. Her point: That Marie was just a wild and crazy teen, so why not play punk rock in the dance scenes? Well, because it ruins everything, that’s why. Skip this turnip, go see Barry Lyndon.