We’re at this point of the year when many many many things related to cinema happen and I basically don’t have time to write about it all… Anyway, Cannes Film Festival has started so I’m going to write about it….but just not today because 44 years ago one of my favourite directors (and screenwriters…at least contemporary directors-screenwriters) was born, Sofia Coppola. So basically I’m going to talk about this great artist’s career in film (it’d be rather complicated to talk about one picture because all of them are brilliant and it would almost be impossible to choose one).
As you all may know, Sofia Coppola’s father is the amazing (probably not the best adjective I could have chosen but like how can you describe such a director) Francis Ford Coppola (and you may have also heard about her cousins Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman). Coppola started appearing in her father’s films at an early age (perhaps one of my favourite non-Godfather movies is Rumble Fish, where she acts alongside her cousin Nicolas Cage) and she may be best remembered for her terrible performance in The Godfather Part III (I mean she won the Razzie for worst supporting actress, which made it official). Anyway, after this experience (which apparently did not hurt her that much because she didn’t really want to become an actress) Coppola ended her acting career (though she still appeared in a number of productions) and went on to write and direct her own films.
The Virgin Suicides (1999) marks the beginning of her career and was critically acclaimed. Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, Coppola’s film captures the bleak atmosphere of a residential neighborhood in the 70’s; her portrayal of a series of deaths in the same family shows a whole world of nostalgia and memories.
Then came one of my favourite films ever (and that’s a personal comment….in fact, this whole blog is a personal comment…well, maybe not…whatever), Lost in Translation, released in 2003. What’s amazing about Coppola is that she was able to capture the essence of modern-day Japan without making the Japanese culture look exotic. The film focuses on the relationship between the wife of a photographer and an actor, and their loneliness in a city that’s so different from the normal routine. The characters seem completely lost in the landscape, a matter underlined by the colours and soundtrack used in the movie (the soundtrack is absolutely marvelous, I highly recommend it). For this movie, Coppola became the third woman in history to be nominated for best director at the Academy Awards (Kathryn Bigelow would be the first to win, in 2010, for The Hurt Locker) and won the Oscar for best original screenplay.
Coppola’s next feature was Marie Antoinette, a modern-day portrayal of one of the most famous historical characters ever: the controversial figure of Marie Antoinette of France, wife of Louis XVI. This is, in fact, a new way to read history, especially if we compare this film to Norma Shearer’s Marie Antoinette, which is a rather traditional biopic. Coppola’s Marie Antoinette tries to understand this child-woman, who was forced to get married, leave her country and become queen at an early age. Marie Antoinette was more of a rock star than a queen, she was a modern teenager living in the wrong place at the wrong time (perhaps evidenced by the pair of sneakers spotted in a scene or the soundtrack). What’s important here is that the director is aware the main character is neither the perfect heroine portrayed by Norma Shearer nor the wicked witch from history books: she was just a human being.
Coppola was the first American woman to win the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, from her film Somewhere, that premiered in 2010. The main character, actor Johnny Marco, is yet another lost soul in this crazy world, in the case the glamorous and shinny yet shallow movie industry. It’s quite easy to see in Cleo, Johnny’s daughter, the image of young Sofia Coppola, whose famous father exposed her to the film world at an early age.
Her last movie, the Bling Ring, is probably the worst she’s ever directed, and I may not be the only one to admit that since it received terrible reviews (I myself was terribly disappointed). In my opinion, Coppola’s signature can’t really be seen…the characters are obviously lost, they don’t know whether they’re kids or adults, but the visual and poetic aspects of her filmography had completely disappeared. Now, if anyone is reading, SPOILER ALERT, I think the final scene is just SO superficial, I mean it’s just a way to say “hey, it’s Emma Watson, see, Emma Watson”…just no…seriously.
Anyway, Sofia Coppola is Sofia Coppola and I’m pretty sure she’ll be back on her feet again (she is working on two upcoming projects, Fairyland and The Little Mermaid) so right now all I can say is…Happy birthday!