The Back Row Manifesto’s Incredibly Personal, Completely Subjective List of the Best Films of The Decade (2000-2009) will be unveiled over the course of the month of December. Think of it as a sort of misguided advent calendar without the little chocolate surprises. Either way, thanks for reading and please check back every day over the next few weeks for the full list. The introduction to the list can be found here.
20. Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola
I really do believe that this movie, beautifully shot and deeply moving, will not only go down in history as one of the most misunderstood films of the decade but will subsequently grow into one of the most revered movies of this time period (well, that is, if we can remember anything in the future). When I saw it, the predominant criticism I heard was that Coppola couldn’t shoot meaningful scenes, that she was making autobiography, living a cloistered life as a rich, American princess, etc. Watch it again, people; it’s still great and what I said then still rings true today:
“I don’t know if there ever was a time when America didn’t feel compelled to stand at the intersection of celebrity, gossip, envy and art in our culture, but what I do know is how weary I am of the way in which people’s real lives become fodder for the interpretation of their work, and no recent example is as striking as the completely unjustified smear campaign being waged against Sofia Coppola and her wonderful Marie Antoinette… Let’s play grown-up and put the bullshit aside: Coppola has created one of the most compellingly watchable historical dramas in recent cinema precisely by doing what her critics accuse her of doing; playing loose with the historical and temporal facts for the sake of making a good movie. Answer me this; Would it be more or less ‘historically accurate’ (don’t get me started) to ascribe thoughts and famous quotes to a character via period dialogue or carefully plotted revelations that in no way spring from the emotional experience of real life? Or rather, isn’t it more cinematically compelling to interpret an historical life as an extension of the modern condition? Because, while there is no mistaking that Marie Antoinette is certainly about class, privilege and duty, at its very core it is the story of a girl gone, well, a little wild…
I think, had any other director made Marie Antoinette and followed Coppola’s non-literal, highly cinematic strategy of telling this story this way, they would be hailed for their achievement. I simply think, in the age of Paris Hilton, MTV’s Cribs and blinged-out hip-hop stars, there is a general weariness with the celebration of ridiculous, undeserved (read young) opulence among cultural critics. But isn’t that the point? That said, the way in which Coppola’s film (and the director herself) has been mistreated by these woeful misreadings is simply unfair; the film is neither a celebration of the queen nor a smug cautionary tale. I remember when Eric Rohmer made The Lady and The Duke a few years back, and despite the muted voices of a few left-wing French intellectuals, most critics were delighted by the visual daring and the fun Rohmer seemed to be having with what ended up being a deeply conservative story about a royalist on the run from stupid yet dangerous French revolutionaries. But this isn’t The Lady and The Duke because there is no ideological longing here, and certainly no statement about French political morality is being made. Instead, Coppola does what any director in her right mind must do to make a very good movie; She empathizes deeply with her protagonist, finds a way to bring her audience into the queen’s gilded cage and allows us to look into her unknowable heart.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette