Aesthetically, a favourite film of mine.
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cinematographer: Lance Acord
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzmen & Rose Byrne.
Marie Antoinette follows the journey of an adolescent woman plucked from her home country and married off to Prince Louis IV in Versailles, France. The film covers her life until the point of the French revolution.
The cinematic style is engaging and at times jaw dropping. Described by Coppola herself as a girlish fantasy, it is as far as a film can get from being an eyesore.
The film pays homage to the colour palette of her Antoinette’s more notable portraits, Favourite colours, Versailles (from where she reigned), and the delicacy of her youthful persona, as interpreted by Coppola.
Lance Acord was the DOP for the film,
Acord and Coppola have worked together on ‘Adaption’ 2002, ‘Lost in Translation’ (most notably) 2003, and ‘Marie Antoinette’ in 2006.
The film was shot on location, in the historic Versailles itself, as well as other locations in Paris, Austria and England.
One of the key characteristics, and commendable aesthetic qualities evident in the film is the high key lighting.
Due to the loud interiors, exteriors, costumes and props there was an absolute need for each shot to have enough lighting to take everything in, whilst not appearing over exposed.
Coppola wanted to create high key lighting that ‘popped’, whilst Acorn worked endlessly to capture the textures and beauty of the props and costumes, two crucial aspects of the film.
The film gained both positive and negative reviews due to its modern take on a period piece. The story itself focusses less on the politics of the time and more on the personnel paradoxes of Antoinette. The films look reflects this, focussing on bringing to life the bright and ‘fun’ costumes, cakes, gambling and drinks that Antoinette turned to for solace, making them look bright and lovely, as she saw them. This made the film appear less true to the factual and historic look most period pieces stick to.
At the time this was not the norm, so in some ways Coppola paved the way for less than realistic period pieces that have come since.
Whilst high key lighting was vital to the finished look of the film, it was also met with scenes of moody, low key lighting and melancholy hues. We see this in the opening scenes when Antoinette, played by Kirsten Dunst, is made to undress, ridding herself of her Austrian possessions and transforming into a look suited to the French.
The décor of Versailles and costumes of its inhabitants were married in a display of pastel colours; blues, pinks and yellows were predominant throughout, whilst the traditional royal reds, blues and whites were reserved for particular characters only.
Coppola used a tray of assorted macarons as some of her first inspirations and colour pallet, a tray of macarons actually made it into the film.
Along with the macarons were shots of other pastries, croissants, mousse, strawberry covered cakes, éclairs etc. etc. Each shot of these decadent desserts was close up, well lit, and cut to create a fast paced, immersive montage.
Similar shots were created with Antoinette’s shoes, stocked in rows that seemed to go on forever.
These scenes, and most of the film, were accompanied by a retro punk soundtrack that added to the youthful, wreckless, ‘bubbly pop’ on the film.
The film was shot primarily in Versailles, a film makers theoretical dream. Filming proved to be more difficult than anticipated however, with the art department needing to re-create everything within the walls of Versailles, from curtains to chairs, in order to avoid damages.
Smoke is used throughout the film, the amount of talcum powder used in the wigs on set also added to the smokey effect, this adds to the atmosphere and creates distance between the colourful costumes and patterned walls of Versailles.
Acord uses various shots to create different feelings, successfully reflecting Marie Antoinette’s inner turmoils, and occasional triumphs. Some of my favourite shots were used to accentuate the alienation Antoinette was feeling. In scenes where Antoinette is the centre of attention the film cuts from shots of Antoinette’s POV, whereby emotionless faces, or judgemental ones, watch her in silence. The shots cut to a pan of her audience looming in on her, the only movement being offered is her cautious step through the sea of onlookers.
In later stages of the film Acorn turned to using nature inspired filming techniques, relying on the beauty of life and natural form to create captivating shots.
As Antoinette matures she falls away from her hedonistic lifestyle pursuits to a degree and focuses on a simpler form of enjoyment with nature and her children. We see this transition through various shots as her surroundings and attire becomes less structured and full of loud colours and patterns.
The use of flaring is used both at the beginning and end of the scene, the sun rise being an underlying presence throughout the film.
Through skinny, leafless trees Antoinette watches the sun from her carriage as she enters France, Again it streams into her carriage the morning of her escape from Versailles.
An abundance of contrasting compositions is offered throughout the film. Attention to symmetry is apparent in many scenes, using slow zooms to accentuate this further in some. These shots move slowly, they have an order about them, they create hyper alienation and dismay. However, at times of uncontrollable frenzy, fun and romance this style is abandoned completely with Acord choosing to step away from these perfectly staged shots.
Many parties were held by Antoinette and the delicacy of composition deteriorates as the handfuls of cake become bigger, and the drinks spill more frequently. At times of Antoinette’s despair, mainly when receiving letters from her mother from Austria, Dunst is pushed into insignificant corners of the screen, in scenes as brightly lit and heavily decorated as in this film, she almost disappears completely.
Acord comments that Coppola has a very humble nature, and in her own modest way knows exactly what she is after artistically, the two of them bounce off one another, Coppola entrusting Acorn to bring her vision to life. The two have never used storyboards when working together. They let the actors take meaning from their scripts and see what is created between the rehearsals to decide upon lighting set ups, locations and exact camera shots.
This film takes me to a new world. It is dreamlike, amongst the madness, it is superb.
To all girls on film,
I applaud you!