Let Them Eat Whatever

Court and sparks: Sofia Coppola (center) on the set of 'Marie Antoinette'
Sony Pictures Entertainment

Rarely has a festival press conference so enlivened a movie's context as in the case of Marie Antoinette's post-screening fracas at Cannes, where French revolutionary film reporters joined an international coalition that seemed bent on collecting the head of Sofia Coppola. As the filmmaker's "historical" biopic uses downbeat Cure songs and other cool anachronisms to argue that the titular queen's removal from the throne by an angry mob was, like, a total bummer (the movie's final shot laments the uncouth trashing of a lovely boudoir), this enjoyably intense gathering of insurgents served as a kind of alternate ending, one authored not by Hollywood royalty, but by les misérables of the press. The revolution tastefully omitted from Coppola's costume drama would, indeed, be televised—at least on closed-circuit monitors positioned throughout the Palais.

I would like to know, a German journalist proclaims, lobbing the first fireball at Coppola and her court. What's your personal/political opinion about the French revolution?

The room verily erupts in laughter and applause; war is declared.

"Um," says Coppola, elegantly outfitted in a black-and-white polka-dot gown. "I wasn't making a political movie about the French revolution. I was doing a portrait of the character of Marie Antoinette."

One of the interesting things about the movie, another reporter observes, is that it shows us puppets as leaders of countries. Would you say that reflects on contemporary politics?

"I don't find it to be part of my role to make a political statement. So I'm going to pass on that."

Later: I know you're not interested in politics. But considering the French government at the moment, don't you think that what happens in your film is a very curious and peculiar allegory of current French political events?

"You know, I'm really not commenting on French politics or any politics."

I understand that there were boos after the first screening. How do you respond to that? And: Is it ironic to spend $40 million on a movie that is about decadence and excess?

"I think that in relation to film budgets, that's not a decadent film budget. And I didn't know there were boos at the screening."

Don't you find that your Marie Antoinette is not so far from a desperate housewife?

"I've never seen Desperate Housewives."

What about all the macaroons?

"We were making a movie about Marie Antoinette, so I thought we needed a lot of silk and macaroons."

Is this a very personal story for you in the sense that Marie Antoinette came from a royal family into a new court, and you've followed your father here to Cannes?

Coppola stammers something akin to yes and no, looking to star Kirsten Dunst in a beseeching manner that seems in the context of this conspicuously consumptive movie to say, Can we go shopping now?

The aristocracy isn't entirely without protection in the course of this 20-minute skirmish. Steve Coogan—who, aptly enough, plays one Ambassador Mercy in the film—offers that Marie Antoinette is a typically "great" movie by Coppola and that the director's non-fans "aren't really on her radar anyway." (Hisses and heavy sighs from the crowd!) Co-star Marianne Faithfull mistakenly asserts that the only Cannes boos were for The Da Vinci Code(!); then the panel's historically minded moderator Michel Ciment points out that those who boo "great" films at Cannes are "always petit bourgeois." (Outraged laughter! Eye-rolling! Clenched fists! More hissing!) In a week, Variety will dutifully cast aspersions on the length, volume, and, uh, accent of the boos, quoting "one Brit" to the effect that the booing was distinctly Other—"more of a 'beurgh' than a 'boo.'" (Who says there's no investigative journalism anymore?)

As Coppola's seemingly studied (or blissfully ignorant?) non-replies amount to one long whatever, epitomizing the right of privilege to keep mum on important matters, it's left to Dunst to ask implicitly whether class's trumping of age and gender in the court of Cannes is, you know, fair. Before Ciment calls an early end to the proceedings, the movie's queen has the last word, and it doesn't lack authority. "Sofia is the only [director] telling intimate stories about women and, like, what they go through in their personal lives," Dunst asserts, alluding to the other two chapters in Coppola's girl-you'll-be-a-woman-soon trilogy. "There's plenty of, like, mopey-man movies, but there are no movies about girls being introspective and about, like, their struggles in the world and their relationships in the world.... The Virgin Suicides was one of my friend's favorite movies. [Coppola] speaks greatly to women my age."

Attention all teen Paulines: Film culture requests your presence immediately.

A version of this article appeared earlier in Cinema Scope.

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