Found: 'Marie Antoinette' in Paris

Max Goldberg October 18, 2006

After weeks of Western Europe, there was, inevitably, Paris. To that point, the trip had been spent away from cinemas, but Paris’s film culture proved uniquely alluring; what better way for the young cineaste to crash the City of Light than a trip to the silver screen? We pored over “Pariscope,” seeking our indulgence, and there it was: Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette,” one American in Paris calling out to another. We stole away from the Latin Quarter’s crush, descending stairs to a basement theater (gang way!) and our wistful Princess Sofia.

That Parisians take their movie-going seriously is obvious from the orderly admission lines, perfect projection, and atypical (by U.S. standards, that is) numbers of solo patrons. It was with such a crowd that we sat for “Marie Antoinette”; as Gang of Four banged over the frankly awesome opening sequence, the Parisians watched, politely if unmoved. There were more tired sighs than oohs and ahs at Coppola’s trademark ennui-as-art and “Marie Antoinette’s” endless parade of cakes and frills, though there was none of the sneering one might have expected after the film bombed hard at Cannes. It’s certainly as careless with French history as “Lost in Translation” was with Japanese custom, but after several weeks abroad, I was ready to swing with Sofia’s insouciance.

The director’s Marie — like Lux and Charlotte before her — is spoiled and potentially thoughtless, but she’s also intimately familiar, especially so for the traveler. It wasn’t just her idyllic detachment that I locked eyes with, but also the way her days went: for every fizzy evening, giddy on a culture’s riches (and wine) there is the tedium of a disoriented, vague afternoon. Adolescent as it may be, “Marie Antoinette’s” confectionary and whimsy seemed perfectly in line with this American’s reasons for journeying to Paris. A few weeks after I returned to the states, a Times piece ran surveying Sofia’s favorite shops and caf