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Coppola, Dunst find life in a new project

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Cannes, France - Sofia Coppola sees far beyond the perky persona Kirsten Dunst shows on the surface. Dunst feels more like herself on screen when Coppola directs her.

The two, who previously collaborated on Coppola's first film "The Virgin Suicides," reunited for "Marie Antoinette," a costume drama with modern trappings that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

It was an unusual choice for both, who had been grounded firmly in today's world.

After "The Virgin Suicides," a nostalgic tale of lost innocence set in the 1970s, Coppola won an Academy Award for the screenplay of "Lost in Translation," a quirky tale of kindred souls connecting in a foreign land.

Dunst scored a hit with the peppy cheerleading comedy "Bring It On" before joining the blockbuster ensemble as girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson in the "Spider-Man" movies.

Yet Coppola, 35, and Dunst, 24, brought an inventive contemporary air to "Marie Antoinette," in which Dunst's animated American voice mixes with British and French accents and pop tunes by Bow Wow Wow blend with authentic 18th century music.

Dunst plays the young French queen as a woman in late 1700s aristocratic gowns, but with an up-to-date party-girl attitude.

"I would do anything with Sofia," Dunst told The Associated Press. "She really gets me as a woman and an actress, and she captures who I am more than anybody else I've worked with."

"Marie Antoinette" is competing for the Palme d'Or, the top honor at Cannes, a prize the director's father, Francis Ford Coppola, won in 1979 with "Apocalypse Now." A win for "Marie Antoinette" Sunday would mark the first time in the festival's 59 years that a child of a past recipient won the Palme d'Or.

Coppola wrote the screenplay from Antonia Fraser's biography "Marie Antoinette: The Journey." She said she had Dunst in mind from the start, seeing similarities between the superficial way Marie Antoinette has been perceived and the open-book personality that Dunst can project.

"She has this bubbly, young-girl, outgoing personality, but then she also has kind of a more serious side, substantial depth to her. There's more going on than she shows sometimes," Coppola said. "That worked for the character, because people didn't take Marie Antoinette seriously. It's the blonde, the bubbly blonde. But she had this substantial dignity that in the end really comes through, and I think it's hard to find both of those in the same person."

The film centers on Antoinette's years at the French palace at Versailles, where she was dispatched at age 14 from her native Austria to wed Louis XVI ( Jason Schwartzman), heir to France's throne.

"Marie Antoinette" co-stars Rip Torn as King Louis XV, Judy Davis and Steve Coogan as key figures in Antoinette's personal staff, Danny Huston as her brother, Marianne Faithfull as her mother and Asia Argento as Louis XV's brazen lover.

The modern pop tunes underscore the dying gasp of decadent palace life that preceded the French Revolution and eventually led to Antoinette's beheading. The title character is presented not as a villain or a martyr, but a flawed young woman whose profligate ways arise from boredom with the royal court's stifling ways and her pleasant but inattentive husband.

In Coppola's movies, Dunst is not so much playing a character as playing a piece of herself, the actress said.

"I've noticed in roles, why I hate watching myself certain times is because I know that I'm not being honest. It's not me, and somebody is putting their views on how they think a woman should be, how they view me as a person. Maybe they don't always get you, so it doesn't feel honest when I'm watching it, so it's uncomfortable for me," Dunst said.

"When I watch myself in Sofia's movies, it's scarier, because I feel more vulnerable, but it's closer to who I am. It's more than closer to who I am. It is me."

At its first press screening, "Marie Antoinette" drew wildly mixed reactions, earning solid applause from admirers and sharp boos from many French critics.

Coppola and her cast shrugged it off, saying "Marie Antoinette" was not a film for all tastes.

"It's better to have that than to have a sort of bland, uniform response to something. It shows that Sofia is being true to her voice," co-star Coogan said. "People who love Sofia Coppola films will love this one, and the people who don't, won't."

(Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)