Drama queen

Gauls build buzz for cheeky 'Antoinette'

The French despised the real Marie-Antoinette, sending their frivolous Austrian-born queen to the guillotine without a second thought.

More than two centuries later, will they be kinder to Sofia Coppola’s celluloid version?

Gallic distrib Pathe is convinced it has a hit, spending a generous $3 million on marketing, including on the red-carpet preem of “Marie Antoinette” here Wednesday.

Flying in the face of current day-and-date doctrine, Pathe is releasing the film in Gaul Wednesday, long before its October Stateside bow and its even-more-distant U.K. release, slated for next February.

U.S. backer Sony is yielding to Pathe on the Cannes event; Sony is spending a fraction of what it did on drubbed Cannes opener “The Da Vinci Code” and many Sony execs have already left the Croisette.

The pic will bow on around 300 prints, most of them subtitled. That’s a relatively modest number for a high-profile pic in France. But it’s a luxury that Pathe, owner of Gaul’s biggest theater chain can allow itself, gambling that word of mouth will help build the film.

Pathe took a similar tack with “Volver,” which came out on 250 prints day and date with the Competition screening last Friday and has been playing to packed theaters ever since.

Whether the French end up loving “Marie Antoinette,” they are already talking about it a lot, and opinion is divided, naturellement.

Pathe’s efforts have been helped by extensive Gallic press coverage, with most magazines, ranging from popular to highbrow, giving the film (based on Antonia Fraser’s biography), rave reviews — and plenty of front covers.

Some, however, carp. There are complaints Coppola has taken too many liberties with the facts — for instance the queen’s on-screen roll in the hay with Count Axel Von Fersen — and others that she has ignored the bigger picture.

“This is not our history,” complained Thierry Gandillot, of the weekly magazine l’Express. “The Revolution only gets 10 seconds at the end.”

But more believe Coppola’s modern touch, complete with rock music, is a masterstroke that will revitalize and influence historical actioners.

Jean-Michel Frodon, editor of the highfalutin Les Cahiers du Cinema, is an unconditional fan.

“It’s very elegantly and generously directed and it has an energy that goes beyond the obstacles that hinder and slow down most historical films,” Frodon said.

He added, “I still don’t like the Marie-Antoinette who had her head chopped off, but I like Sofia Coppola’s. She makes us love the character.”

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