Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Politics of Failure Have Failed

(In response and to expand.)

The new Sofia Coppola film `Marie Antoinette' remains esoteric either as a high-class chick flick or an appropriate 80’s back catalogue of all “our” favourites. Take your pick. Coppola keeps a strong continuation of theme from her first two films in that she focuses on societal pressures as they relate to young women (hence, chick flick). In her past efforts, (the strong debut `The Virgin Suicides' and the heartbreaking `Lost in Translation') she has done this with an appreciable amount of success. However, this film differs greatly in many respects, but most importantly in the choice of her female protagonist.

Tackling a historical icon at the threshold of the French Revolution launches Coppola into intense socio-political territory. Would one know it as they watch the film? Ninety-nine minutes out of a hundred I’d say no. The main focus of the film lies (apart from pretty clothing) on personal woe and triumph, and in doing so creates compelling and subtle portraits of the main characters. Coppola manages to isolate these individuals from their historical context. While this is at least consistent, it makes another aspect of the film painfully clear: Her timing in terms of the contemporary political climate is sadly off.

With the Republicans still holding the reins (you can say what you want about mid-term elections) a film that dismisses one of the most important periods of time for the progression of Western Democracy is a film that lacks an appropriate amount of self-awareness. Very much like the na├»ve title character, the film remains dismissive to the point of insult. At the very least, it leaves the viewer wondering why Coppola would release something so openly indifferent to the monarchy’s role in the Revolution, and ultimately in its own demise.

This is not to suggest that every film released between 2001 and 2009 be ripe with political content. However, the choice of heroine makes apparent the opportunity to do so, which was then discarded in favour of something more easily digested. I would hazard a guess that the shining fluff with which it was replaced is a more tragic gesture than we realize. However gorgeously filmed, it does not compare to the potential for political gesture that it side-stepped in jewelled shoes and never looked back.


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