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October 23, 2006

Marie Antoinette


Sofia Coppola - 2006
Columbia Pictures 35mm film

I had recently read Nathan Lee and Melissa Anderson's respective articles in "Film Comment" before seeing Marie Antoinette. For a while, I felt I had nothing new to add to the discussion. There was a passage in Anderson's article that stayed with me, mentioning the reading of Marie Antoinette as "an allegory of the director's own privileged, pampered upbringing". I do not feel I know Coppola enough to make an assumption.

What may be worth investigating is that the two main objects of at the court of Versailles according to this film are Marie Antoinette and Madame Du Barry. To push Anderson's argument further, if Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette is a stand-in for Coppola, how should one read the casting of Asia Argento as Madame Du Barry? I do not ask this question lightly. Coppola and Argento are both the daughters of well-known filmmakers, and are, to the best of my knowledge, the only two female second generation directors. Add to that, the casting of Danny Huston as Marie Antoinette's brother, again a second generation director as a member of the royal family.

A few months ago, I had proposed a blog-a-thon on Women Filmmakers. The proposal was dismissed by several other people. Marie Antoinette has me thinking the topic is still quite valid, especially in view of the careers of Sofia Coppola and Asia Argento. Both women have what appear to be more difficult challenges in establishing themselves as worthy filmmakers on their own merits. In addition to the fact that both have their fathers listed as producers, Coppola had to overcome to general derision her performance in Godfather III, while Argento has diluted her reputation by acting in too many inferior films. If Coppola has been assessed more seriously since Lost in Translation, Argento is still the Madame Du Barry of Hollywood, judged more for her sexuality and flamboyant behavior, and less on the actual merits of the two films she directed. With the information that The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things author J.T. Leroy does not really exist, and that Argento may have either been a dupe or part of the fiction concerning the author, certainly makes evaluating the second film more difficult, and adds to the gossip.

Danny Huston, as a director, could never get out from under the shadow of father John. At this time he appears to be concentrating on acting. Huston's career path has gone the opposite of Coppola's. That Huston both appears in Marie Antoinette and has the role of royal older brother seems less coincidence than another way of comparing Hollywood royalty with French royalty. Second and third generation Hollywood talent might always be the subject of unkind gossip. And Hollywood, like Versailles, seems especially unkind to women who may not seem to know their place.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 23, 2006 03:31 PM


i had no idea a women filmmakers blog-a-thon was suggested. that sounds like a fascinating topic for about a hundred different reasons and the first (as is often the case with blog-a-thons) is seeing who/what gets written about and who/what doesn't.

Posted by: Nathaniel R at October 28, 2006 01:05 AM