Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, Judy Davis
(PG-13, 123 min.)
"Work keeps us from three great evils, boredom, vice, and need."
Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette MTV style is a superficial spectacle that seems strangely seduced by the excesses it portrays. The giddy camera gives us plenty of eye candy – gorgeous gowns, sparkling champagne, and iced delicacies, but seems to forget what film making is all about -- the art of telling a story.
Like MTV, we are teased with bits and pieces that suggest a story, but at least the Music Television network has a few good excuses. First of all, their average song is less than two minutes, and it is the music and not the narrative that is the main focus. Your average filmgoer has invested a little over two hours in the filmic life of the eighteenth century’s material girl – time he could have put to good use in raking his yard, for example. Is it too much to expect a little character development or meaningful conflict along with the endless promenades through Versailles? I’ve watched more dramatic footage on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
Most of us remember Louis XVI’s consort for her “let them eat cake” attitude, which was followed by a rather swift introduction to Le Mademoiselle Guillotine. That the French queen was an Austrian import, a barely 14 year old exported to France like some fine porcelain – carefully shipped, crated, and inspected for cracks at the final destination – is an eye-opener. That she has no say in whom she marries – in this case, the rather unappealing grandson of the lusty Louis XV, who unfortunately does not share his ancestor’s virile inclinations, also claims some sympathy from the viewers.
And yes, to live for seven years with a consort more interested in ancient locks than the nubile Austrian virgin occupying the other half of the royal bed would be difficult. Unfortunately this difficulty is also compounded by Marie’s mother (Empress Maria Teresa) reminding her that her ties to France are tenuous until she succeeds in teaching the naive Dauphine how put his key in said lock. But to assume, as some critics have, that the strange machinations of Versailles -- and they are strange -- are visited on poor Marie Antoinette alone is to lose sight of all the others who are part of the complex bee hive order there. I mean, the French heir to the crown is caught up in the duties and trappings of kingship as much as his Austrian wife, and it is with something bordering on panic and fear rather than ambitious joy that he greets the news of his grandfather’s death and his imminent crowning.
So while the other cogs in the Versailles machine dole out their daily installments of curtsies, bows, and other servile acts, poor neglected Marie must console herself with ever-higher pompadours, a selection of shoes to turn Imelda Marcos green with envy, and a ready supply of custards, pastries and iced confections that would keep Rosie O’Donnell occupied for several hours, at least. And then there’s the champagne, the gambling, the sly sampling of white powder and the rippling flesh under at least one powdered wig.
But what we get, mainly, are sketches, like the cartoons Michelangelo first drew on the Sistine Chapel before he filled in the color and details that brought that masterpiece to life. The ripe palette of court intrigue is confined to some sniping about the King’s mistress; all the rest are sibilant whispers that fail to inform. The conversations between Marie and her husband never mature beyond the banal niceties of a first date fix up. But Marie has to have someone’s ear, at least one confidante to humanize her. The closest we come to this is her joy at motherhood, the confession to her first-born daughter that since she is not the male heir the court has wanted, this daughter will really be hers. That intimate moment is quickly followed by the child’s removal to the nursemaid.
The audience shares the same feeling of disappointment, the expectation of something meaningful, the tease of substance, the whiff of intrigue, the smell of conflict, which like Marie’s infant daughter, is briskly ushered offstage by nursemaid Coppola.
Oh, the rainbow of iced cakes, the custard tarts that overflow onto feminine hands to be licked off with feline delicacy, the pastry teased into every conceivable shape to delight the eyes and amaze the senses. And yet Marie and her court beauties remain as slim as our current anorexic models. It’s enough to make us cry for their heads!
But before you resort to violence, soothe yourself with this wonderful French Chocolate Crème Brulee with Fresh Raspberries. You can always go jogging when you’ve finished.
Chocolate Crème Brulee with Fresh Raspberries
- 6 oz. best quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1-1/3 cups whipping cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 1-1/2 cups raspberries, chilled
- 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon Demerrara Sugar or Sugar in the Raw
For garnish: whipped cream & 18 whole raspberries
- Melt the chocolate over simmering water or in the microwave. Cool.
- In a heavy saucepan, heat the cream just until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan.
- Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl, then add the sugar and whisk to blend.
- Gradually whisk the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture then return to the saucepan.
- Cook over low heat, scraping the bottom of the pan constantly with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes. The mixture should reach 160°F on an instant read thermometer.
- Immediately pour into a bowl and stir about 30 seconds to cool. Set aside for 5 minutes.
- Pour 1 cup of the custard over the cooled chocolate and whisk until well blended. Gradually whisk in the rest of the custard. Pour into a large bowl and stir occasionally until it comes to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours.
- Put about 1/4 cup of the berries into each (of 6) ramekins (single serving, heat-proof cylindrical dishes). Spoon about 1/3 cup of the custard carefully over the berries and smooth with a rubber spatula.
- Sprinkle 1-1/2 Tablespoons of the sugar over each custard and use a torch to caramelize the sugar.
Garnish each custard with some piped whipped cream rosettes and the raspberries. Serve immediately or within one hour.
Recipe Source: Debra F. Weber