October 14, 2006

Marie Antoinette press conference at the 44th New York Film Festival

Photo by Martin Tsai. Marie Antoinette director Sofia Coppola and star Kirsten Dunst at the Alice Tully Hall in New York City on Oct. 13.

By Martin Tsai

“I didn’t know very much about her, except for this iconic decadent evil queen. When I started reading about her, I was struck by how young she was. She was this 14-year-old kid. I read about the side that is a real person, who had a lot of sympathetic qualities as well as flaws,” Sofia Coppola said of Marie Antoinette. “I wanted to make an impressionistic view of her. I wanted all the music to reflect emotions the character was having at that time. I wanted to take the adults in the court and the music of the period and then contrast that with the world of the teenagers and the more contemporary music that shows the energy.”

Since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, Coppola’s Marie Antoinette has met a lukewarm reception in France. But the film gets a second chance in the States, where it premieres at the prestigious New York Film Festival. At the press conference, Coppola seemed less interested in talking about her use of contemporary music in a period piece. She became more engaging and articulate only when she had to defend some of her historical choices rather than artistic ones.

“There are so many elements, we couldn’t put every single thing in … We couldn’t go into every area because it was an impressionistic portrait,” Coppola responded when journalists asked her why she chose not to show Marie Antoinette’s decapitation and glossed over her illiteracy.

“The story after they leave Versailles is a long period of 10 years in prison and a long trial and then escape,” she said. “We weren’t making a miniseries so I couldn’t tell that whole story. I decided to focus on the years in Versailles prior to her departure, to show that she evolved and became a woman.”

Kirsten Dunst, who plays the title role, finds Coppola’s method is more rewarding to her as an actress than the textbook approach. “Already I knew this would be something different from how I would normally approach a historical figure. (Coppola) forced me to look at her in such a personal way that I had never looked at somebody in history before. There are so many facets about Marie Antoinette. I could have the freedom of my own in trying to find the essence of her, not judge her, and understand her point of view as a woman at whatever stage she might be in.”

Coppola said it was thrilling for the cast and crew to be able to film on location in Versailles, especially in the museum’s private areas. The only issue was for her producer Ross Katz to schedule the filming, since the museum is open to the public most of the time.

“It was a very scary thing going to France and not knowing we would have permission to shoot in Versailles,” Katz said. “After one meeting with the current head of Versailles – the director general of the palace – he said that he was going to open the gates to the palace so we would be able to tell the interior life of the character. From that point on they were with us every day to film at a place that has spoken to millions of people.”

© Copyright 2006 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.