Photo: ‘Marie Antoinette’
A gentle dive into film theory and you will face the decades-old term “The Male Gaze” coined by Laura Mulvey- a feminist film theorist who challenged the established sexism that seethed through the film industry. Mulvey employed psychoanalysis and feminism in her concepts which eventually led her to “The Male Gaze” theory. It’s a complicated web of misogyny through the objectification of women and their bodies. Decades later, we’re finally adopting the progressive ideas of Mulvey and gravitating toward the refreshing lens of “The Female Gaze,” and it’s long overdue. Now, film enthusiasts are embracing the female gaze with lectures that celebrate underrepresented female cinematographers. Long are the days of the American Society of Cinematographers excluding women.
The Women Behind the Film
On its initial release in 2006, Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie Antoinette‘ was met with mixed responses, and dare I say, seemingly biased reviews; proving that the film was a nuanced female-driven narrative that was way ahead of its time. “It bummed me out,” Kirsten Dunst admits to Deadline, “because it was so personal to me. I thought, Did I let everyone down? But ultimately, I was playing the essence of the character, a perfume of it. It wasn’t like we were making a historical drama… Listen, if that film came out now, it’d be a different story. We were clearly ahead of the time, and we were celebrating a female director, too. Now, it’s cool, but then it was like, ‘Oh, you can’t play with the boys yet.’ I think that was part of it. I think it was threatening.”
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It was deceitfully playful with the poignant Kirsten Dunst as Coppola’s Marie and Jason Schwartzman as her almost dominant counterpart, Louis XVI. You’ll be quick to recognize the very American cast employing their very American accents while posing as French royalty from the 18h century. Underneath the casual tones of the film, was an astute and innovative vision from the brilliant mind of Sofia Coppola who perfectly captured the quiet suffering of a young girl used as a political token to ensure her family’s social status. “I felt compelled to portray how her story had been misrepresented over time. I had this idea of how to interpret her life in a way that felt youthful and girly instead of academic,” Sofia Coppola said in an interview with Vogue.
Behind the ornamental palace and the past-colored world of Marie Antoinette was a childish vulnerability that evolved into a woman who was thrust into a prominent and risky position to assume the role of the Queen of France.
“I really think working with Sofia at such a young age, at 16, gave me the feeling that I was beautiful,” Kirsten Dunst revealed to Deadline in an exclusive interview. “… getting that validation from a woman you think is the coolest means you don’t need it from male directors. You know what I’m trying to say—it’s like, I didn’t have to be looked at through the male gaze to feel like, ‘I’m sexy.’” Coppola was able to capture the symbiotic trust between women that parallels the isolation felt by her version of Marie Antoinette.
The Freedom of a Woman Telling Another Woman’s Story
A quick summary of the film could be that it’s a coming of age 2tale of a young woman who is coerced to shed her Austrian sense of self to accommodate a patriarchal norm where women must serve the fancies of men, especially the most powerful men in Europe. Marie Antoinette vacantly stares through the windows from her carriage as she’s on her way to meet her betrothed soon-to-be husband, the Dauphin of France. The opening scenes feature a crucial moment when Marie’s carriage stops at the border that separates Austria from France. She is introduced to the King of France who will escort her to his son and her future husband. It is a heartbreaking scene where Marie must separate herself from her puppy, Mops, along with anything that connects her to Austria. Including her clothing. She’s stripped bare in the middle of a dreary forest while the King of France awaits for her outside of a glamorous tent. At that moment we can gape the vulnerability Marie Antoinette must endure as a young bride.
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Pressured by her mother, brother, political mentor, and the French aristocracy, Marie is continuously shamed for an unconsummated union and takes the brunt of the blame as opposed to the other male-half of her marriage. Without putting herself first, Marie innocently attempts to please her new husband, whom she just met, without acknowledging or processing her wants and needs as a wife. We watch as she is painstakingly devalued by the French court and by everyone within her inner circle on the basis that she’s unable to please a man. At which point, the sum of her existence is centered on seducing her husband.
Marie Antoinette in the World of Men
Coppola introduces a playful and introspective look as Marie teeters along the lines of girlhood while entering the elusive world of womanhood. She becomes emboldened by the Duchess de Polignac, hilariously played by Rose Byrne, to take advantage of her youthful femininity for the sake of self-exploration. The Duchess is a magnetic figure that instantly beguiles Marie to join her world of drinking, late-night soirees, and indulgence. Marie finds solace at a masked ball where her identity and her political responsibilities are temporarily concealed.
Although joined by her unsuspecting husband, Marie is taken over by a riveting sense of liberation and meets the alluring Count Axel. She begins a passionate affair that awakens the woman that has been lying dormant since her awkward arrival in France. She becomes consumed by her love affair and their intimacy is far from gratuitous for audiences, it’s an endearing and delicate representation of female-focused lust.
The Female Gaze – The Responsibilities of Women
After experiencing the intense feelings of love, Marie Antoinette is ready to devote herself to a husband who is opening his heart and his mind to her. Their marriage is portrayed as a friendship that grows into a close bond and leads to the birth of their children.
Beyond the lavish walls of France’s gilded cages, Marie blossoms when she is further away from the suffocating grasp of the patriarchy. There’s a moving scene where Marie and her daughter appreciate the freedom and the uncorrupted world of nature as they’re both adorned in white gowns that signal the peace of women enjoying each other’s presence, away from the watchful gaze of men. As she continues to evolve, Marie becomes engrossed by art, culture, and fashion. Only a woman can astutely capture the painstaking feeling of a girl struggling to navigate the polluted waters of sexism and injustice. Sofia Coppola presents a young girl transitioning into a woman who assumes the title as the Queen of France.
Rather than being an accurate historical account of the controversial Marie Antoinette, the film is a reimagined narrative told distinctly through the female gaze of the inner-self exclusively through the lens of a young Queen trying to identify who she is as a woman.
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rose Byrne, Asia Argento, Rip Torn, Judy Davis
Director: Sofia Coppola
By Gina Yaniz
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Gina Michele Yaniz is a writer and digital media content creator with a deep love for storytelling. Charmed by the notable influence of the entertainment industry, Gina is passionate about uplifting the voices of artists and celebrating powerful material. She likes to embody the philosophy of writing through a non-judgmental and a genuine perspective while expanding the perception of film industry. Along with Hollywood Insider, Gina values the responsibility the media holds and wishes to use her writing to provide meaningful content. During her free time, Gina loves to watch period pieces, stand-up comedy, and indulges on her avid interest for reading articles on self-care.