There’s something about Sofia Coppola’s style that reacts harmoniously with the historical fiction genre (emphasis on the fiction).
Many write off her 2006 masterpiece Marie Antoinette as an unrealistic portrayal of history. But I argue it’s the fictitious nature of Coppola’s film that earns it acclaim. Dictionary.com defines historical fiction as “the genre of literature, film, etc., comprising narratives that take place in the past and are characterised chiefly by an imaginative reconstruction of historical events and personages.” Marie Antoinette’s work is perfectly categorised by “an imaginative reconstruction of historical events”. Her style transforms history by indulging in the “imaginative”, giving viewers a look into the aristocratic teenager Antoinette might possibly have been.
And does it matter if she really was that teen? Does it matter if Marie Antoinette really would have enjoyed a shoe display adorned with frills and fluff, flirting with a stranger at a masquerade party in the middle of the night, or watching the sunrise with her vapid friends and a bottle of chardonnay? In this context, I do not think it’s relevant to separate the truth from fiction.
These additions work to accomplish one goal: humanising the reality of the adolescent Marie Antoinette. By involving elements associated with the modern teen, like pop-rock music and pastel colours, alongside and overlapping the frivolity Marie Antoinette was historically notorious for, audiences truly understand the reality of her situation. Yes, she was a lifelong aristocrat, but she was also a teenage girl thrust into a position she was unprepared to manage.
That’s why I think tackling Antoinette’s story was a genius move for creator Sofia Coppola. She had already proven her affinity for dissecting the psyche of the teenage girl with The Virgin Suicides in 1999 and was able to implement a similar tone and style to Marie Antoinette. Though the characters in these films live in wildly different situations, there is a shared element between them (beyond sharing star Kirsten Dunst).
Coppola’s choice to re-imagine the French Queen’s story through a new lens reveals what she values most in her brand of storytelling. She thrives portraying stories of characters that audience’s previously thought they understood. Many knew the story of Marie Antoinette. Given the opportunity to be consumed in her world of whimsy and play contrasted with ultimate duty and restriction, however, Coppola offers a new realm of relatability to Marie Antoinette’s story.
by Olivia Kelliher
Olivia is an 19 year old from the US, originally from Chicago but currently attending film school in Boston with hopes of becoming a screenwriter. One day, she hopes she will write a film so insightful that her parents will think maybe letting her live a thousand miles away from them as a teenager was worth it. She likes movies with lots of words or at least a few words that mean something. Whip it, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Beginners, and A League of Their Own are some of her favourites.