Friday, April 26, 2013

SOMETHING IN THE AIR

Maybe I unfairly labeled Something In The Air as "meh" in my end of the year wrap-up. It’s a pretty good film. It’s just that ever since Demonlover & Boarding Gate I hoped Assayas would continue down that path of unique, strange, sexy, bat shit crazy espionage films he pulled off so well. His more personal/tame films like Late August Early September & Summer Hours never fully hit me right away. They're cool to watch on a Sunday afternoon at first then their greatness finally creeps up on me months (or years) later. I remember feeling somewhere in between disappointed & "meh" after watching Something In The Air @ TIFF which bothered me because Assayas is, in my opinion, one of the top 4 directors working right now (Haneke, Denis & Mike Leigh being the other three). I always expect excellence from him and Something In The Air was the third film of his in a row that I initially shrugged my shoulders at once the credits rolled (I've since come around with Summer Hours, but I have yet to fully see what all the hype is about Carlos outside it being really long). But now that Something In The Air is set to be released in U.S. theaters soon, is featured on the cover of the latest Film Comment and has recently come up in conversation a couple of times with Chris Funderberg of the Pink Smoke, I've started to rethink my stance on Olivier Assayas' semi-autobiographical film.

There's something about modern films set in the late 60's & 70's (Dazed & Confused, Almost Famous, the first half of Boogie Nights, parts of Forrest Gump, etc) that sometimes rubs me the wrong way (this is a personal problem, not yours, but I'd still like to share it with you). There’s this unspoken vibe they give off almost like bragging as if to say; back in the day we had stuff like vinyl & and GOOD music, revolution, the black panthers & the Vietnam War. We smoked weed & dropped acid but we were still productive and made a difference. This is how it was in our time. Sometimes I watch these movies and I just wanna say; get over yourself. Something In The Air has a hint of that stuff but not like the afformentioned films.


Maybe I'm so much in to being an 80's baby and have had my limit of older Generations talking down to me about how I don't know anything simply because I'm younger makes me feel kinda "blah" about their era. The nostalgia in the Something In The Air is a bit heavy at times. Like, it almost feels TOO "70's". Plus I don't relate too (and don't really wanna relate too) things like hippies, pseudo militants or sitting around a bonfire smoking weed talking about revolution, philosophy & change or other annoying things that makes me role my eyes. Something In The Air is full of that stuff. Don't get me wrong, I've come around to liking this but I can never LOVE it like I do Demonlover.

In Something In The Air Assayas gives us a glimpse in to his life as a teenager, how he eventually got in to film, the social change that was going on in Europe and the revolution that was...in the air. The young Bressonian characters that the film focuses on (who are loosely based on real people from Assayas' past) have some kind of drive & determination to follow their passions, but at the same time they also also come off as apathetic, almost blank and blahzay about life as they lay around looking pretty and getting high.

The 400 Blows (Truffaut)
I don’t know what it is about French & Belgian cinema but ever since The 400 Blows it almost seems like there's an unofficial requirement for all prominent French filmmakers to make at least one coming of age tale (sometimes semi-autobiographical) thats either politically and/or socially charged or about some kind of sexual discovery (Rosetta, The Promise, US Go Home, The Devil Probably, Small Change, Murmur Of The Heart, Fat Girl, Water Lilies, tomboy, The Boy With A Bike, A Hair Under Roses, Cold Water, Small Change, Boy Meets Girl, etc) and Something In The Air fits right in with that group of films. Although there are quite a few exceptional coming of age stories from America, whenever something is politically or socially fueled it’s so obvious and in your face that it sometimes turns me off. Great European coming of age stories set during a turbulent or historic time tend to hint at or casually mention important political events rather than shove stuff down your throat. The backdrop of Something In The Air are the protests that took place in May '68 in France and the after-affect it had on young leftists in the early 70's but Assayas doesn’t constantly reference it (at least not directly to my knowledge) over & over again. He focuses more on the main character "Gilles" (who essentially represents Assayas as a teen) and his group of young left-wing friends and their experiences after high school (or whatever Parisians call high school). They travel the world, experiment with drugs, take part in student protests & revolutions, fall in & out of love with each other and start to discover their paths in life as filmmakers, painters, writers & dancers.

Gilles/Assayas' entry in to filmmaking starts through painting & sketching, then on to visual arts (controlling those trippy slide shows in the background while rock bands perform). He then gets a job in television (thanks to his father) which eventually leads to a job in the film industry where he works his way up from the bottom as an assistant. And Gilles isn't the only character in the film who discovers a love for filmmaking. One of Gilles' love interests; Christine (played by Lola Creton) goes on to become a political filmmaker as well.

In the March/April edition of Film Comment, Olivier Assayas references Bresson's The Devil Probably as an influence which makes perfect sense when/if you get around to watching Something In The Air. It’s almost like the Gilles character was plucked from the background of The Devil Probably and placed in Assayas' film with his long shaggy hair and borderline monotone/emotionless delivery. The beauty of Something In The Air beyond the political & coming of age stuff is that it helped me realize how influential of a film The Devil Probably is. I think it’s almost on the same level as The 400 Blows or Breathless. Due to its influence on two of my personal favorite films (Taxi Driver & Stranger Than Paradise) I've been a bit fixated on Bresson's Picketpocket or even L'Argent (that film also influenced stuff I love like Henry Fool & Shadows In Paradise). But The Devil Probably's influence in French cinema just hit me all at once recently. Look at some of the recent entries on Pinnland Empire (along with older stuff like 5 Questions with Bertrand Bonello & The Cinema Of Michael Haneke). So many things branch off of it. Both Claire Denis (sorry, don’t care if you're sick reading that name on here) & Humbert Balsan (the unofficial subject of The Father Of My Children) both had background roles in the film when they were young and up & coming in the movie business. Bertrand Bonello had the actors in The Pornographer study The Devil Probably (and you can still see its influence on Bonello's later work like The House Of Tolerance & Tiresia) and its influence on Haneke's earlier films goes without saying.

The Devil Probably (Bresson)
I guess I've learned now to give Assayas' films time resonate and grow on me before judging them. I genuinely have the urge to see Something In The Air again whereas in Toronto I was a bit indifferent. If you enjoyed his recent work then chances are you'll enjoy this. With Something In The Air Olivier Assayas uses the political elements from Carlos along with the "lighter" qualities of Summer Hours. Even though Carlos came first, Something In The Air feels connected to it (I imagine Gilles in his mid-twenties following Carlos The Jackal on the news). Globalization has been a common theme in Assayas' work since Demonlover. He makes these multinational/multilingual casts and his recent films are set in multiple countries (Paris, London & Rome)

For those of you not too familiar with all the films I've mentioned, imagine an altered French version of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (I usually make my own awesome movie comparisons but I gotta give credit to John Cribbs, the other half of the pink smoke, for the Almost Famous Comparison).

Monday, April 22, 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH MARINA DE VAN (INTRODUCTION BY JOHN CRIBBS)


Horrifying an audience with the image of a blood-spattered woman surrounded by strips of her own mutilated flesh isn't difficult; to make a prolonged sequence of this the tender, transcendent - even romantic - climax of your film could only be accomplished by Marina de van. Even the dark films she wrote with and acted in for François Ozon (most notably the provocative short Regarde la mer) couldn't prepare anyone for In My Skin, De Van's harrowingly resonant directorial debut in which she plays a young woman who becomes fascinated with the essence of her physical body, ultimately discovering an aberrant kind of liberation through self-laceration and cannibalization. Fantastically, de van reveals the beauty in her character's decision to eviscerate herself piecemeal, presenting it as a way to establish a connection to her life and a release from the spiralling conventional world from which she finds herself exceedingly detached.
De van's penetrating second feature film Don't Look Back incisively identifies an intangible terror of the commonplace, in which the unreliable outward texture of things change - imperceptible to others, these shifting designs threaten the stable reality, and eventually the physical presence, of Sophie Marceau's mother of two. The discrepantly nurturing and dimishing nature of family was revisited in De Van's fairy tale adaptation Le petit poucet (featuring Denis Lavant as an ogre) and continues in Dark Touch, which opened the Tribeca film festival this past weekend. Involving the massacre of a provincial clan that may have been carried out by the inanimate objects of their happy home, De Van's new film suggests an even more sinister take on the altering pieces of furniture that daunted Marceau in Don't Look Back.

PINNLAND EMPIRE: In our previous Interview you mentioned that Dark Touch was partially about child abuse - Is part of the reason for making Dark Touch due to the lack of films about child abuse in France?

MARINA DE VAN: I don't know anything about this lack. I never paid attention to that. Anyway, I don't choose my stories looking at any objective need or lack about a subject in culture. I choose them because I'm inspired and touched by them; so that was the case with child abuse.


PE: Dark Touch seems like an appropriate (yet dark) title for this kind of film – Would you care to elaborate on the title of your new movie?

MDV: It's a good title, very subjective. I can't talk about the creative process about finding it though, because I wasn't the one who found the idea.


PE: Any particular influences (films, literature, music) for Dark Touch?

MDV: Not that I'm aware of.

Dark Touch
PE: Was it difficult for the lead child actress to work on a film like Dark Touch with such heavy subject matter?

MDV: I don't think so. There's a lot of action to be used as a base for expressing emotions by the actors so, as far as it is physical, it's easier to act. The child did well.


PE: All of your films tend to incorporate many different genres (noir, personal drama, existential horror, psychological thriller) – Is it your intention to combine multiple movies genres or do you like to be uncategorized as a filmmaker?

MDV: That's not important. I don't mind. But I don't work thinking about genre. I just tell stories, I don't work on codes or categories. And except Dark touch, I never shot a genre movie so far.


PE: Although Dark Touch is its own piece of work, it seems to combine elements from your previous films – the darkness of In My Skin & and the personal/family drama element of Don’t Look Back. Would you agree with this statement?

MDV: I don't know, it's a bit vague for me to agree or disagree.


PE: Do you fear that audiences & critics will misinterpret certain elements of your new film? If so – what elements of your new film do you worry will be misunderstood?

MDV: No, I have no peculiar fear.


PE: Was it difficult to get funding & distribution for Dark Touch?

MDV: Yes it was, because of the subject and because genre movies arent very welcome in France.


PE: Is it at all intimidating to be the opening film at The Tribeca Film Festival?

MDV: No, it's cool.


PE: Are there any particular films you’re looking forward to seeing this year?

MDV: I haven't read the program yet.


PE: Do you consider yourself an important & relevant female voice in cinema? (Not just French or European cinema, but cinema as a whole)

MDV: I don't think about me nor as important nor as being a female director or creating as a female. I create as myself, not as a sample of sexual or social identity. Every director is different. There's not two classes of director, males and females. For me, this idea is stupid.


PE: Are there any ideas forming for a NEW Marina De Van film after Dark Touch?

MDV: I'm still working on it.

On set of "Dark Touch" at Gothenburg Film Studios from Gothenburg Film Studios on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

THE TORONTO VAULT VOL. 2: FAUST (SOKUROV'S MISUNDERSTOOD MASTERPIECE)

I’m not a TIFF Vet like my buddies John & Chris but at this point I know enough to know that around the end of day 4/beginning of day 5 of the festival all the movies start to meld together and you feel like you’re watching one mediocre day-long movie. Faust was the last memorable film that I saw at the festival in 2011 before everything started to get all jumbled (and almost anything is enjoyable after just sitting through Rampart).
Apparently winning best picture at a major festival like Venice doesn't always guarantee that a film will get a descent run in theaters (art house theaters, but still…). Such as the case with Alexander Sokurov's latest; Faust - another retelling/reworking of the famous tale of Faust's quest/struggle to find ultimate enlightenment and the deal he makes with Mephistopheles. To my knowledge this hasn't been released yet outside of festivals & special screenings. Maybe I’m being a bit naïve but I assumed that Sokurov’s recent stuff like Russian Ark (a feature length film shot in one take) & his “power trilogy” (Moloch, Taurus & The Son) had solidified his spot in the art house cinemas but I guess not. In my opinion Sokurov has reached “master auteur” status (if you refer to 5 Questions with Guy Maddin, he considers Sokurov to be the best active filmmaker around) and Faust felt kinda special to me as this was the FIRST film of his I saw on the big screen. This version of Faust isn't your typical German fairytale. Even though this made my top 10 in 2011 it's still not the easiest thing to sit through. This Faust is a world full of deformed characters (in this version, Mephistopheles reveals that his penis is located on the back of his gross pear/squash-shaped body. ...yeah), the creepiest homunculus of ALL the Faust films and dissected bodies (in one of the film's earliest scenes we see Faust inspecting the inside of a body he's just cut open in order to find where the "soul" is). This almost doesn't feel like an adaptation. It’s as if Sokurov brought Faust, Mephistopheles, Gretchen and all the other characters into HIS dreamy world of dense beauty & intentionally slightly un-synced audio where everything feels just a bit...off.
In 2011 much was made of Terrence Malick's Tree Of Life and I couldn't help but think that if there was a place in theaters for that - then why not Faust? Both films have a similar disorienting vibe, deal with vague subjects & issues like; science (on some level) & the origin of life and both films have what many believe to be hidden messages. With Tree Of Life it was the message of Christianity, religion & evangelism whereas with Faust it was apparently a hidden message about Russia’s integration with the rest of Europe (honestly…I don’t see it, but that’s what people are saying).
While Faust shares a strange & unexpected connection with the cinema of Terrence Malick in terms of content, it also shares a connection with Post Tenebras Lux in terms of style & execution. Faust & Post Tenebras Lux, which are both directly inspired by the cinema of Tarkovsky (as well as psychotropic drugs) are two of the few recent works that come the closest to conveying the feel of an actual dream on the big screen.

If I had to describe Faust in one word it would be; dense – the kind of film that you make confused facial expressions at while watching it. On one hand, Faust is a beautiful & rich piece of art that almost feels like a moving painting. The costumes & set designs are excellent...
an appearance from Fassbinder regular; Hanna Schygulla
But on the other hand, Faust is dizzying & tough to watch in some parts (and not just the scenes of grotesque deformed bodies or the guts & organs we see in the beginning). It’s almost like watching an actual headache in the form of a movie (I realize the point of these write-ups are to shed a positive light on these mostly unseen films and I may have just turned you all off by that last statement, but it’s true). It’s a bit difficult to describe, but the ambiance of Faust was very very “thick” & cloudy in both the “feel” and the actual look. The beautiful Gothic-looking images & stills you may find on the Internet paint one picture but the actual moving images tell another story (look at the trailer at the bottom of the review). Sokurov used some kind of filter or special setting on the lens of the camera to give the film an intentionally blurry/cloudy perspective (like that feeling when you first wake up in the morning and haven’t rubbed your eyes yet). This is a challenging film to say the least. Not everyone is gonna wanna sit through something like this for OVER two hours (Faust clocks in at 134 minutes). Alexander Sokurov, who is an amazingly talented director with a unique style, is an acquired taste. Faust is a film that you have to ease in to and it should NOT be anyone’s introduction to his work (no matter how good it is). I genuinely found myself mumbling “…what the fuck?” under my breath more than once while watching this. Faust sometimes seems intentionally alienating. For such a dense, disorienting & trippy piece of work, it didn’t need to be as long as it was. I honestly can’t be mad at anyone if they don’t like this or need more than one sitting to finish it. Depending on the film you have to be kind of a trooper in order to make it all the way through some of Sokurov’s work and Faust REALLY weeds out the true fans (there were quite a few walkouts throughout the screening I attended).
But the beauty of the lead actress; Isolda Dychauk (who plays Gretchen) counters all the roughness & ugliness. Whenever Faust starts to become too much & unbearable her presence (just her face alone) calms the nerves and eases the anxiety that this film may bring on.

Faust might be the oldest and most adapted story in cinema (1926-2011). Every director that’s tackled it has told it in their own unique style. I'd been sitting on an unfinished proper length write-up of Sokurov's Faust for quite some time. Before finishing it off I sought out the original Murnau version and re-watched the Jan Svankmajer version last year at The Museum Of The Moving Image. Apparently there's an adaptation of Faust directed by Brian Yuzna (of Society fame) I still have yet to see. The Mephistopheles character has taken many different forms over the years...
Murnau (1926)
Gorski (1960)
Svankmajer (1994)
Sokurov (2011)
What is it about the story of Faust that has directors of almost every era since the silent era want to adapt this? I can still think of a few modern filmmakers that I'd personally like to see adapt this and put their own twist on it (Guy Maddin, Manuel De Oliviero & Catherine Breillat to name a few)

An interesting fact I recently learned about Faust is that it’s actually meant to be part of his “power trilogy" (which makes it a tetralogy I guess) but I honestly don’t see this fairy tale of a film fitting in with his biopics on Hitler (Moloch), Lenin (Taurus) & Hirohito (The Sun). Yes, Faust deals with similar themes & elements as Sokurov’s aforementioned works, like power & and the misuse of it, but Faust is a standalone work in his filmography. Faust pretty much became a misunderstood masterpiece before it even left the festival circuit. It has all the characteristics – a work of art to some and a piece of crap to others, frustrating to sit through yet rewarding at the same time and some attempt at originality.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

AN INTERVIEW WITH BEANS...


Not many rappers name-drop Helen Mirren or reference films like The Descent in their lyrics but Beans isn't your average rapper. Hes actually not even a rapper. Hes an MC - a pioneering one at that in the world of progressive hip-hop both with his solo work and with Antipop Consortium (one of my all time favorite groups). Besides being a gifted MC (and producer) Beans is a fan of good cinema. His appreciation for film goes above & beyond the average person's appreciation for film so I threw some movie-related questions at him and here's what he had to say

Enjoy...

You did an interview with Vernon Reid a few years back where you expressed wanting to move away from rapping and focus more on doing film scores. It seems like more contemporary musicians are scoring films these days (Trent Reznor, Rza, Brian Eno, Tindersticks, etc)

      PINNLAND EMPIRE: Have you ever been approached to do a film score?

      BEANS: No. No one’s ever approached or asked me to participate in doing so.

      PE: Is there a specific genre of film you'd like to score or are you open to anything?

      BEANS: Yes, I would love to be involved in either a noir or a sci-fi flick.

      PE: Are there any specific filmmakers that you'd like to do music for? Like a dream collaboration.

      BEANS: Gasper Noe or Todd Solondz or Andrew Wagner or Nicolas Winding Refn or Steve McQueen


PE: Is there a particular actor or filmmaker you identify with as a musician? Basically - who do you feel is the cinematic equivalent to Beans?

BEANS: I hope not LOL!! I really don't know. That actor would do really good work but is slept on. I'm not sure.


Your music is considered progressive & experimental by many (especially in the realm of hip-hip).

     PE: Does this automatically make you more of a fan of progressive & experimental cinema? Or
     do you prefer bigger studio films?

     BEANS: Man, I just like a good film. A great movie is a great movie.

     PE: Open question (feel free to elaborate as much as possible) - What do you think the connection is  
     between progressive/experimental music & progressive/experimental film?

     BEANS: Sometimes one doesn't necessarily always have to influence the other.



PE: Random question - what's your favorite movie sample used in a song?

BEANS: Recently, I liked The Dark Knight samples used in the Captain Murphy song,"The Killing Joke"


PE: Do you occasionally sample from films in your own production? (in an effort to avoid possible legal issues you can just give a simple yes or no. No need to get specific if you don't want to haha...)

BEANS: I personally have sampled in the past but I try NOT to sample as the basis of my framework and I strove to be as original as possible which is why I started to pick up drum machines and synths in the first place. I tried to put the music in a context of what happened in the beginnings of early hip hop electro stuff with the influence of musique concrete by trying to duplicate what I was hearing in my head.

I couldn't also do that by searching through other people's records. It has helped me to make some joints in the past but that shit is also very expensive to sample.

Honestly, I'm NOT big on production. I'm not in love with it and my earlier material was produced out of necessity. THORNS was the last album I produced but recently, I feel the need to get out of my own head so I like to work with various producers because I find that more challenging.
But back in the day, I sampled from the THIEF soundtrack.


PE: When you're on the road touring in other countries do you ever watch films even if you don't speak the language?

BEANS: In France, but the theaters don't always have subtitles


PE: What were your favorite films from last year?

BEANSThe Grey, Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Artbirage, Silver Lining Playbook, Looper, Django Unchained.
I still haven't seen The Sessions, Killer Joe, Amour, or Argo (My mom wants to see it as well so I've been waiting on her)



PE: What films are you anticipating this year?

BEANS: Iron Man 3, Star Trek, A Place Beyond The Pines, Pacific Rims, World War ZSuperman, Thor: The Dark World, Europa Report, Zero Theorem, Elysium, Gravity, Snowpiecer, and World's End so far.

PE: Not sure if you know but Steve McQueen's new movie (12 Years A Slave) got pushed to getting released at the end December instead of 2014

BEANS: The one about slavery, correct? Yes, please add that (*to the list of anticipated films) as well.

PE: Yup that's the one

BEANS: That shit is gonna hurt!! I feel it already

12 Years A Slave
PE: Haha yea man. I think this might be the one. And it couldn't have come at a better time (exactly a year after Django). Also, I'm not sure if you know but Steve McQueen's next film is a Fela Kuti biopic!!! It was supposed to be after Shame but he ran in to some problems

BEANS: I know, I know. Very, very exciting!!! Honestly, I missed Shame. I got open on him from Hunger. That shit was crazy!

PE: Well Shame is WAY better than Hunger and I love Hunger haha

BEANS: Word? I gotta catch it!


The last time I ran in to you we had a brief discussion about Skyfall.

     PE: Do you like the more serious/darker tone of these new Bond films?

     BEANS: Looking back, the older Bonds seem corny except for the Sean Connery joints. The
     gadgets made it quite camp.

     PE: Do you think Daniel Craig makes a good Bond?

     BEANS: Yeah, I think he's on point



There's a documentary called Kill Your Idols (2004) about the return of the no-wave/noise rock scene in New York City (Black Dice, Liars, A.R.E. Weapons, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, etc). I've always felt a documentary on the rise of the underground/progressive/"different" hip-hop scene that you were a part of in the late 90's/early 00's (with an emphasis on groups/people like; Antipop, Co-Flow, Mike Ladd, Sonic Sum, Sensational, etc) would be a great subject.

     PE: Do you think that would still make a relevant film today?

     BEANS: I don't know. Everyone's still working. I'm not ready to be dated. Give it a few more years
     when I hit 50.

     PE: Is there a particular filmmaker you'd like to make that documentary?

     BEANS: http://muzikrevyze.com/2013/03/19/rubble-kings-documentary-teaser-trailer/
     & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eU7V4GyEuXA&feature=share

Monday, April 1, 2013

MISUNDERSTOOD MASTERPIECE: MARIE ANTOINETTE (*SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: LEANNE KUBICZ*)

Truth be told - THIS was one of the three films I've always had in mind when I started the misunderstood masterpiece series (Trouble Every Day & Solaris being the other two). After revisiting rule breaking/time-period bending works like Swoon (a film set in the 1920's yet features modern appliances), Walker (an overall awful movie but still strangely relevant) & Jubilee (a film that I'm convinced directly inspired Sofia Coppola's third feature) I gave Marie Antoinette a 2nd chance and came to the conclusion that it’s not the disaster I once thought it was. But for some reason I could never get past a few sentences when writing about it. 
So I gave Leanne Kubicz the task of writing about Sofia Coppola's flawed masterpiece here on PINNLAND EMPIRE.

Enjoy...


Sophia Coppola’s 2006 film, Marie Antoinette, about the most famous Queen of France has enchanted and conversely frustrated audiences due to the eponymous character’s portrayal and her misunderstood history. Many viewers perceive this film to be a flimsy trifle, due to the aesthetic opulence and caressing light with which Coppola aims to humanize this oft maligned woman. Yet one should consider that this is Coppola’s second film adapted from text, therefore she is following the thesis which the author laid out. The biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey (2001) by Antonia Fraser is a hefty book which offers one of the most accurate descriptions of the monarch’s life and the political environment that doomed her. Though the audience is not required to read the source text before viewing the film, Coppola assumes that the audience will have a sufficient prior knowledge of the history of Marie Antoinette, and this may be why many are left unimpressed by the airy treatment that follows.

Marie Antoinette is another Coppola film in which place weighs heavily on the narrative. The four feature films which Coppola has directed integrate a location as a main character: the Lisbon house in The Virgin Suicides is a malignant force of suffocation, the Park Hyatt Hotel Tokyo from Lost in Translation serves to shield and mollify the guests from their real desires, the Chateau Marmont from Somewhere offers easy leisure at the expense of a truly lived life. The Palace of Versailles in Marie Antoinette is the ultimate place as character, as it represents French cultural domination and the crushing force of that society upon the young monarch.
The Palace of Versailles: We Live in Public – 18th Century version
Much has been made by critics of the anachronisms present in the film; often times the inclusion of two pairs of modern shoes in the “I Want Candy” montage. Manolo Blahnik and Converse shoes did not exist at that time obviously, but is that an adequate reason to discount the rest of the affair? Strict historical accuracy in a biographical film is not requisite. The cast alone blows the idea of historical accuracy out the window. Marianne Faithful as Empress Maria Theresa alone should have irked the dissenting critics, yet no mention of the fact that the Empress did not have a British accent. The same could be said of the inclusion of a good deal of the cast. British and American accents mingle freely; the only true French accent or French words spoken are by the young girl who portrays Madame Royale. The ages of the actors are also not congruent to their historical counterparts. Kirsten Dunst was 24 years old during filming and plays a role spanning from the ages of 14 to 37. Does she look like a young teenager? Not quite, and neither does Jason Schwartzman playing a teen King while in his mid-twenties. Such is the suspension of reality one has to make while viewing a period piece, as has been done with previous Marie Antoinette bio-pics. Think about Norma Shearer in the 1938 film of the same name; she’s glamorous and regal, but by no means teenage in appearance.
Eek! Sneakers!!
One aspect of the film that is as accurate as can be, yet did not seem to satisfy the majority of critics, is the set. Filming at the Palace of Versailles is about as authentic as a director can get when portraying the life of Marie Antoinette. The magnificent size of the palace and its grounds envelop Marie and the rest of the royals in an alternate reality. The strict rituals that Marie must learn are a reflection of this imposing structure. Living amongst such opulence and curious conventions skews how the inhabitants conduct themselves, yet act as if their lifestyle is entirely normal. For example, near to the end of the film, after Marie and Louis have sent their entourage away forever to safety from the looming mob, a rather peculiar event takes place the next morning. Louis is seen hunting for pleasure that dawn, despite the fact that the majority of his family and friends are in mortal peril. He does not even understand that he is in the same danger, because he cannot. His cloistered life has lead him to feel he is always protected, which illustrates what a fool palace life has made him.

The foolishness of Louis XVI is subtly but glaringly apparent in this film. History has heaped a good deal of blame on Marie Antoinette for her apparent transgressions as Queen, but history is incorrect. The Queen of France never had any political power; her job was to produce children and “look the part” by outfitting herself in rich fabrics and jewels. Louis XVI was the monarch with actual political powers which he entirely neglected due to his disinterest in the position of king. A key scene which illustrates this point occurs when Louis XVI is speaking to his advisors about possibly funding the American patriots. Louis thinks supporting revolutionaries would give the wrong idea to the French people about what he sees as the rightful position of monarchy. His advisors quickly rebuff his protest and explain that funding the Americans will hurt England, which is the ultimate goal. Louis easily acquiesces to their suggestions and then picks up a rolled map, holds it to his eye and pretends it is a telescope; not exactly kingly or adult behavior. The flippancy which Marie displays when Ambassador Mercy (Steve Coogan) tries to have her read and discuss a political matter about Austria is understandable in comparison. She was only semi- literate and due to having no real political influence, why bother with taking the time out? Louis XVI on the other hand, was better educated and had real powers which he did not utilize; hunting and tinkering with locks was much more important to him than the well-being of his country. Unfortunately, history has blamed a woman for grievous ineptitude when in actuality it was her husband who was beyond remiss. In the end both their heads were chopped off, but the symbol of selfishness has been borne by Marie Antoinette throughout history and not Louis XVI, who should be the symbol of obliviousness instead.

The continued celebrity status of Marie Antoinette through centuries can be attributed to her economic waste precipitating a revolution, but also her fashionable attire. Coppola utilizes the clothing of Marie to implicitly reflect her emotions. Though the costumes are not exact replicas (most of the Queen’s clothing was destroyed during the Reign of Terror; only a few tattered pieces remaining) they are accurate enough to the time period to have won a Costume Design Oscar. When we first meet fourteen year old Marie Antoine in Austria she is wearing a light blue dress, which is formal but age-appropriate; her long hair tied with a simple velvet ribbon. She is free of makeup, other than a youthful flush, which will soon change. The ease of Austrian court dress and custom are juxtaposed radically with what she encounters when transported to France for her marriage. Gone is subtlety, replaced with ornate, stiff French clothes that will define the person that young Marie Antoine becomes.


The stages of Marie’s turbulent life are mirrored in her sartorial and hairdressing choices throughout the film. When she is a fledgling to life at Versailles she wears French dress, but in light pastel colors. As her position becomes shaky (due to being both an Austrian foreigner to the French court and her inability to become pregnant) the colors of her clothes become louder. One outfit is of hot pink fabric, accented with small white feathers. This dress suggests that she is blushing wildly from the embarrassment of an unconsummated marriage and the shame of not being able to fulfill her duties. The pressure put upon Marie to both produce an heir and to “be French” cause her to go against her nature and capitulate to the demands of her family and others at court. Though she finds the idea of speaking to her Grandfather-in-law, King Louis XV’s (Rip Torn) gaudy mistress Madame du Barry (Asia Argento) morally abhorrent, she finally cedes to the myriad demands. When she speaks her few required words to Madame du Barry, she is clothed in black. Not mourning black, but rich black velvet with ermine trim, which feels as if she is almost wearing a costume. Her innocence to the scheming nature and rigid rules of the court has been weakened, so she wears black to thrown her inner-anger outward.
“There are a lot of people at Versailles today.” Are you not satisfied?
As Marie’s sexless marriage continues and her sister and brother-in-law have a child before her, her outlandish stylings ramp up considerably. She is a teenager who is pretty and jovial, yet cannot get her husband into bed. From her perspective, if he is not interested and everyone in her family and at court continually disapproves of her behavior, she may as well do as she pleases. Time to shop, eat, drink and gamble to forget the cold bed she returns to every night. Due to the Queenly duty of looking sophisticated and fashionable, she throws her energy into that aspect fully. Her hair becomes higher and higher, her clothes more ornate and her parties and friends more lavish. Louis allows Marie her indulgences because he is weak-willed and in the back of his head he knows her reactions are due to his sexual dysfunction.
Cheers to Léonard, the Gravity-Defying Hairdresser
Marie’s approach to her appearance evolves when her marriage is finally consummated. Awkwardly enough, Marie’s brother, Emperor Joseph II (Danny Huston) visits Versailles and has a conversation with his brother-in-law about marriage and sex. He couches his conversation about sex in terms about locks and keys, which is one of the few things which Louis understands well. Through Joseph’s allusions to oiling locks (wink, wink), Louis finally has the gumption and knowledge to accomplish the “great work”. At last, Marie is pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl, which fulfills her requirement as Queen.
With Marie’s new motherhood and active sexual life, she softens her style. Louis presents Marie with her own home, the Petite Trianon, as a refuge away from strict court rules. The chateau is where she can live her own way and can wear less elaborate garb. She commissions “more natural” clothes, with less restrictive bodices and panniers, made of flowing muslin and silk fabrics. She also takes a lover during this time, the handsome Swede Count Fersen (Jamie Dornan), who awakens her lust and allows her to feel passion and longing. She longed for relations with her husband, but with Fersen, she can play and enjoy the lighter side of sex. For a woman who seemingly had everything a love affair helped her to escape the binds of her station, if only for a short while.

As the Queen ages and the French people start to revolt, her attire becomes subdued and deeper. The death of her mother and the passing of her youngest daughter sends her into mourning taffeta. Her face starts to show the worry of the volatile political climate, from which she has no path to safety. The Queen tires to placate the angry mob, which reach the palace walls by bowing to them from the palace balcony, to no avail. She knows the end of her sheltered life is over and strives to keep a noble manner through the crisis.

The end result of the film is a lush and drowsy portrait which endeavors to extricate a misinterpreted woman from the legends of the past. One may not feel particularly compassionate towards a woman who was a queen and lived in great luxury. The oppression and poverty of the French people due to the unwise decisions of the government is not to be forgotten. The case for empathy for Marie Antoinette is realizing she had no choice in the matters of her life. There was no escape from her duties due to her position and gender; she was born to one of the most famous monarchs of all time and her path was set from that point onwards. She had an arranged marriage as a teen, was transferred into an alien environment for the political gain of Austria and France and had to endure years of humiliation for events which were not of her making. She was ultimately executed, which the film completely excises, for living a life she had no true control over. The exclusion of the trials and guillotines befits the tone of the film. Marie says a bittersweet goodbye to Versailles as the family travels to an uncertain future. We are left with a shot of her bedroom torn to shreds; the image suffices to capture the horrors to follow not only for Marie Antoinette but for all of France.

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