Maybe Cannes wasn’t the best place to launch “Marie-Antoinette” after all.
Hours before Sofia Coppola’s take on the French queen was set to make its red-carpet competition preem at the fest, the press screening generated plenty of applause — as well as Gallic-accented boos.
Local critics seemed to have a particularly negative response to the film, even though the film bowed across France to robust ticket sales.
Cannes veterans struggled to recall any previous movie that was greeted with such a vocal outpouring of contempt — curiously at odds with the movie’s frothy tone.
But while some French press seemed mortally offended by Coppola’s candy-coated approach to their country’s most infamous queen, others reveled in the smart pop sensibility she brought to this key passage in French history.
Coppola took the Gallic critics’ response to her latest film in stride.
Told about the reactions at a press conference, Coppola said: “Well, that’s disappointing to hear. It’s better to get a reaction; it’s better than a mediocre response. Hopefully, some people will enjoy it. I think it’s not for everybody.”
The catcalls at the Cannes screening came as a surprising contrast to the majority of already-published Gallic reviews: Critics who saw the film ahead of the festival had given the pic a thumbs up, while French newspapers and glossy mags have been generous with their coverage and front covers.
And auds across France flocked to the pic, generating strong opening-day numbers in that territory on Wednesday.
Its first 2 p.m. screening on 44 screens in Paris and the surrounding suburbs drew 5,569 admissions. That puts it on course for an eventual cume of 2 million admissions in the country.
Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” highly appreciated by Gallic auds, finished with 1.4 million tickets sold.
Pathe is releasing the pic in France, Sony in the rest of the world. Stateside release of “Marie-Antoinette” is set for October, with the rest of Europe to follow in early 2007.
“It’s a very solid opening,” conceded a rival Gallic distrib on Wednesday, pointing out that, as with Coppola’s previous films, the Versailles-set pic is expected to do less well in the French provinces.
Wednesday morning’s press reaction on the Croisette did not perturb Paul Rassam, who shares the French rights with partner Pathe.
“They booed ‘The Rite of Spring,’ ” he said, referring to the bow of Stravinsky’s ballet, which shocked French auds in 1913 with its aggressive modernity.
Among the movie’s Gallic detractors, the main gripe is that a signal moment in French history — la Revolution — is pushed to the sidelines.
“It’s Marie Antoinette gets bored, Marie Antoinette goes shopping, Marie Antoinette gets laid,” said one critical critic.
But Le Monde’s Thomas Sotinel, in the pro-Coppola camp, feels those getting persnickety about French history are missing the point.
“All of Sofia Coppola’s films tell the same story, about a young girl struggling to find her place. That’s what this film is about,” he said.
Sotinel conceded that Coppola’s understanding of the period in French history, and the protocol of the time, was limited.
“It is obviously not her culture. Louis XV (played by Rip Torn) speaks as though he were at a barbecue in Texas.”