Sofia Coppola and Her Films
Being the daughter of an iconic director, Sofia Coppola has often been judged to a high standard considering her illustrious background. Coppola has, over the course of her (almost) two decades of filmmaking, more than proven herself an adept writer and director in her own right, even winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for her work on Lost in Translation, and now winning Best Director at Cannes for her southern Gothic period romp The Beguiled.
The award is well-deserved considering Coppola has already produced some stylish and timely pieces of cinema in her body of work; with some proving more divisive than others. Her work has often been derided by some as a laboured study of ‘first world problems', but Coppola maintains her aim is to write what she knows - a mantra preached by many a writer for generations - and she rarely fails to hit the spot; particularly in her cinematic voice which is steeped in feminine perspective. Here is a ranking of her films in the build up to the release of her lauded The Beguiled...
5. SOMEWHERE (2010) - Coppola's most derided film, Somewhere was criticised for its focus on the struggles and ennui of a successful Hollywood movie star - some arguing it is a struggle not worth documenting. Coppola’s fourth offering is a minimalist examination of the emptiness of celebrity, so subtle it almost pushes the audience to the point of boredom with its repetition of the lead character Johnny Marco (in a brilliantly understated performance by Stephen Dorff) failing to find satisfaction with the luxurious if shallow trappings of showbiz life. However, this slow reiteration often serves to increase the empathy we feel towards Marco and the vacuousness of his life. The more entertaining and enjoyable aspect of the film is felt in Marco’s relationship with his 11-year old daughter Cleo (a lovable and mature performance from the gifted Elle Fanning), as we see the only true meaning in Marco’s life is with the daughter he has so often failed before. Perhaps the slow patience required in the development of this relationship moves just ever too slowly to be the true beacon for Marco's life that Coppola envisions - but the performances keep you coming back for more. There is a definite injection of some personal experience here though, as a famous father and his daughter spend time together bonding in the Chateau Marmont. Coppola’s least engrossing film, but some interesting filmmaking nonetheless from the auteur.
4. THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999) - Coppola’s first feature film was an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ debut novel about the mysterious lives of five sisters in middle class suburbia. A bittersweet coming-of-age mystery, Coppola masterfully keeps the audience enchanted by the Lisbon sisters, but simultaneously keeps them at arm’s length, not too far though so as to allow us to witness the awkward pressures of girls transitioning into womanhood. This requires a delicate balancing act from Coppola, who also utilises the brittle melancholy of the young actresses, anchored by the impeccable Kirsten Dunst as Lux Lisbon, in the first of multiple collaborations with Coppola. The Virgin Suicides is an enigmatic film, as much so as the Lisbon sisters themselves, but it was the perfect springboard for Coppola’s themes of depression and uncertainty in her films to come. The film's most memorable moment is Lux awakening alone on the football field after a night with her first love (Josh Hartnett) and we feel her vulnerability, innocence and bittersweet realisation of abandonment. Quietly devastating.
3. THE BLING RING (2013) - The fifth offering from Coppola is a darkly satirical piece on the hunger for fame, fortune and popularity, examining the celebrity-driven culture and materialism of the modern world. Loosely based on a Vanity Fair article on true events, the film follows a group of friends in Beverly Hills who decide they "wanna rob" the homes of the rich and famous. Segments of the film play out like a stylised music video, with a hip-hop/pop soundtrack overlaying slow-motion scenes of the gang of teenagers partying with their stolen loot. One standout sequence shows a long=shot of the gang robbing a luxurious modern mansion - we are distant but engrossed and perhaps a little excited. Emma Watson lights up the screen as Nicky, a wannabe model who delights in the crimes and uses them to achieve fame, and excels as the hilariously vacuous and shallow character. The film, similarly to Somewhere, is also guilty of glamorising the same world Coppola seems to be criticising, yet at the same time taps into the true complexity of the situation by showing us the beauty of celebrity but also the emptiness that comes with it. The least subtle film in her filmography, but perhaps the most conventionally entertaining and funny of them all too.
2. LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) - The film that won Ms Coppola her Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Lost in Translation is the story of two lonely American strangers who meet in a hotel in Tokyo, Japan. Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, an ageing actor, who befriends a college graduate named Charlotte (a stunning and underplayed performance by Scarlett Johansson) and the pair share their pain with the crises going on in their respective lives, enjoy taking in Japanese culture and discussing the differences in their generations and lifestyles. Despite receiving criticism for its shallow depiction of Japan, Murray and Johansson have terrific onscreen chemistry with some brilliantly naturalistic and moving dialogue from Coppola. The film’s conclusion is iconic in itself as the audience isn’t allowed in on a secret, but the ambiguity of their final encounter is beautifully done. Sofia Coppola’s most celebrated film, it is partly inspired by her own divorce from husband Spike Jonze which may be why it feels so painfully real as Charlotte struggles in her marriage to her ignorant husband who pays no attention to her inner sadness. For an interesting reversal, watch Spike Jonze’s Her and see if you can notice an opposing portrayal with Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara's divorced couple; the film also starring Scarlett Johansson.
1. MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006) - Despite being the most divisive film in her filmography (premiering to applause and boos at Cannes Film Festival 2006), Marie Antoinette is perhaps Coppola’s bravest and most unique film. Examining the historical French Queen Marie Antoinette - a controversial figure reviled for her excess - and her time at Versailles, Coppola takes a very modern and anachronistic look at the woman beneath the finery (played with equal parts playfulness and melancholy by Kirsten Dunst), and examines the struggles of a growing woman within the extreme patriarchal and regimental world of France’s royal court. Dunst makes a sympathetic protagonist as we see Marie Antoinette attempt to not disappoint those around her, but as little happiness appears in her way and ignorance gets the better of her, she seeks comfort in various expensive and scandalous vices. Using a modern punk and indie soundtrack, a brilliant juxtaposition with the historical costumes and surroundings of Versailles, Coppola makes history fresh and original with a very feminist film; a revisionist focus on a female protagonist with all her complexities when history has cast her as a villain. Exemplary work.
How will The Beguiled compare? We shall find out on the 23rd June 2017.