â€œAm I here?â€ Kirsten Dunstâ€™s Queen of France asks her friends during a champagne-buzzed all-night bender on the grounds of 18th century Versailles. The question is part of a historical-figure guessing game the characters play, but it also signifies writer-director Sofia Coppolaâ€™s evocation of a teenage girl fumbling to grasp an identity in the choppy cross-currents of growing up.
That she happens to be the title character of â€œMarie Antoinetteâ€ is almost beside the point. Coppola astutely deploys punk music such as Gang of Four to raze preconceived notions of period pieces as stodgy and distant. Cementing herself as one of a handful of American directors truly interested in visual storytelling, Coppola deftly outlines her heroineâ€™s alternating states of boundless hedonism and loneliness.
Most movies have a patriarchal view, spinning on the axis of a male-based crisis. Coppola gave way to this pattern in the droll but overrated â€œLost in Translation,â€ but puts the female psyche front in center in â€œMarie Antoinette,â€ skillfully marrying evocative images to ennui-drenched rock songs. A tracking shot, set to the pulse of The Strokes, follows Marie down the hallway as she frees herself from the soul-suffocating chains of her husbandâ€™s (Jason Schwartzman as a clueless King Louis) boring recreation-room games and lands on her bed, daydreaming about a long-distance lover.
The movie forges its aesthetic from its heroineâ€™s superficial pleasures of fashion, champagne, pastries and gossip. Is Coppola shucking her responsibilities by not outlining history point by point? No. Marie alternates between disembodied dreaminess and corporeal pleasures just like every teenage girl, or teenager, for that matter. Marie flits between the thrill of both growing into her life and wanting to escape from it.
And then adulthood comes crashing down in the form of political upheaval. The partyâ€™s over. Youth is gone.