Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Cinematic Guillotine: Coppola's Marie Antoinette

Revisionist Sofia Coppola would have it no other way. Her latest cinematic opus "Marie Antoinette" mixes the modern with the Ancien Regime in a rather curious way.

Postmodern cineastes would probably know very little about the roots of the French Revolution. Schools no longer give much time for students to learn about Liberte, egalite, fraternite. I noticed this when we heard some college students wonder what's so special about Marie Antoinette, whilst Marla and I were queing for tickets.

The ill-fated queen is remembered for something she did not say. Let them eat cake! Rosseau wrote the statement "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" that was ascribed to an earlier French queen. This was not a really an insensitive thing to say since medieval French law mandated fancy bread (brioche is really egg bread) be sold at the same inexpensive price as less fancy bread. This was of course in the movie with Marie Antoinette denying saying that to her ladies-in-waiting.

Perhaps Sofia wanted to really drive idea about the lavish, and flippant lifestyle that led to the Revolution. Of course this was really one of the major reasons of the end of the Ancien Regime. Sofia's movie was shot in Versailles and this added to the realism. Some scenes were shot in the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's escape abode.

The French now view Marie Antoinette with more sympathy than in the past but movie critics in the USA point out Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of the ill-fated queen was stereotypical “dumb blonde”. I think that was quite unfair since Dunst’s portrayal of the role was hardly dumb even though she’s blonde. What was so dumb is how Louis XVI’s character was played. It was so geeky!

Ms Dunst did the French Queen credit. But perhaps who did the most credit to the historical character he was playing was Rip Torn, who humorously played the lecherous Louis XV. He perhaps was the only relief in this Ancien Regime movie.

But the Comic Relief is the tale about why Louis XVI did not consummate his marriage with Marie Antoinette until seven years later. The historical gossip is that Louis had a tight foreskin, a medical condition doctors call phimosis. With the glans penis unable to come out of its sheath (or the foreskin cannot be retracted), erections and intercourse would have been painful. Circumcision was believed to have solved Louis' problems and so seven year later a princess was born to the queen.

Coppola's treatment of Marie Antoinette's eventual deflowering 7 years later elicited laughs from the women in the audience and for a male viewer like me, a huge relief. After all, how does it feel for a man to be sleeping with a wife for 7 years and who is a sexy, blonde virgin; and if contemporary accounts were to be believed, had the most perfect bosom in all of France? That state of affairs would have been intolerable for any man.

The solution to the Comic Relief was not told in the movie!

As the Baratillo blogger would say, the political context for the end of the Ancien Regime was not treated in the movie. But this movie was not about the French Revolution but about Marie Antoinette. But Coppola did it right when she depicted the scene in which Marie Antoinette stood on the balcony in Versailles with the Mob below. Contemporary accounts say that the mob admired the queen when she bowed to them.

Of course the movie ends with the Royal family leaving Versailles forever. The capture at Varennes would be later and their dates with Monsieur Guillotine was a scant four years ahead. And the movie ends with a farewell and the screen turns black! A sort of cinematic guillotine dropped in front of my eyes. That was probably the best statement on film about the end of the Ancien Regime.

I wonder if Coppola plans to do a sequel? How about Napoleon?

So on leaving the cinema I was so hungry but the French Baker was shut and so was Delifrance (their bread sold half the price three hours earlier at 9 PM). So I can't eat brioche the Pinoy version would have been ensaimada or egg pandesal!

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