Film & TV

Spotlight: Sophia Coppola

So far this year our director spotlight has been, for lack of a better term, a bit of a sausage fest. This wasn’t an intentional decision, but more to do with the fact that the number of renowned female film directors with enough films to fill this double-page can be counted on one hand; a hand that has a few fingers missing at that. Last year men were responsible for directing 85% of all American movies, with women only being in charge of 7% of the top 250 Hollywood films. Sofia Coppola is not one of those women, but that is not to say that she hasn’t created some cinematic masterpieces. Some people assert that it’s not what you know, but who you know, and this may well be the case for Sofia, whose father is director Francis Ford Coppola, and is cousins with cinema legend and national treasure, Nicolas Cage, amongst several other famous faces in the film world. But regardless of her family connections, Coppola is a talented director in her own right, with more Oscars than Leonardo DiCaprio (here’s hoping this is his year!). So if you want to watch some aesthetically delightful films, Quench Film and TV are here to give you a run down on some of her best!

The Virgin Suicides (1999) 

The brief lives of the unattainable Lisbon sisters make up the compelling, emotional and often depressive storyline of Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut. Therese, Bonnie, Mary, Lux and Cecile are an almost perfect group of girls. It’s something which they themselves cannot quite comprehend when becoming the intense objects of affection of a group of neighbourhood boys. Nevertheless, it’s something that they embrace and have fun with, especially the most promiscuous of the Lisbon clan, fourteen year old Lux (excellently played by Kirsten Dunst).

The Virgin Suicides is a reactionary tale to the events which occur at the beginning of the film. The attempted suicide of the youngest of the Lisbon sisters, Cecile, further isolates these mysterious sisters and emphasises the tragedy within the confines of their family.

The films narration is that of reminiscence. These intrigued, albeit now much older, neighbourhood boys document their encounter with the girls during one of the most vulnerable times for the human race; the brink of adolescence. The sisters’ untouchability and purity, which is so intensely perpetuated by their conservative and catholic mother, is what is makes them lusted over even more. They are the forbidden fruit. ‘We want what we can’t have’; a sentiment embodied by high school dreamboat, Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), whose desire for Lux is a catalyst for the fate of the Lisbon sisters.

We know the unfortunate outcome of the girls right from the very start, but still, the abruptness of it leaves us shocked nonetheless and confused exactly as to why. The sisters had such an intensity and impulsivity to them that their actions are arguably the final grand and symbolic gesture of their short lives.

It’s not your cliché coming-of-age film, and whilst praise is due for Coppola’s [now] distinctive cinematography as well as her interpretation of Jeffrey Eugenides novel, the acute elements of comedy which are strangely juxtaposed with feelings of sorrow and an often melancholy tone, probably mean it’s not going to be every teenagers cup of tea.

– Allanah Williams

Lost in Translation (2003)

A ‘valentine’ to Tokyo as Coppola describes the film herself, Lost in Translation is bound to leave viewers with a bittersweet aftertaste. The storyline revolves around Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson), a young woman that joins her husband on his work trip to Tokyo and Bob (Bill Murray), an aging actor travelling to Tokyo to shoot an ad, who is going through a midlife crisis. Both staying in the same hotel, they meet in the hotel bar and start spending time with each other in the days that follow, forming a platonic relationship and bonding over their feelings of detachment and their search for passion.

Coppola’s admiration for Tokyo and the Japanese culture is very noticeable throughout the film. She wanted to portray the struggle of these two people trying to find their way in life by discovering each other and she managed to do that perfectly by placing them in the surroundings of an unknown overwhelming city which deeply resonates with their views of the world.

Although the film revolves around Charlotte and Bob’s budding romance, it offers a postromantic portrayal of love, which rejects the notions of monogamy and stereotypical relationships and has a bit of a negative take on romance and dating. It is, nevertheless, a beautiful film in which Sofia Coppola’s cinematographic genius shines through every scene and creates a very human and real portrayal of the characters’ experiences.

– Stephany Damyanova

Marie Antoinette (2006)

Coppola’s biopic about Marie Antoinette hit screens in late 2006, depicting the infamous queen’s life throughout her teens and towards her tumultuous demise. Coppola’s frothy, seductive directorial style is clear from the first few frames depicting the teenage Marie Antoinette sprawled out on a velvet lounge chair whilst Gang of Four blares in the background. Kirsten Dunst is stunning as the main playing the precocious and vastly misunderstood young Queen. We follow her as she is married into the French court at the age of 14 to the naïve and pubescent Louis XVI portrayed by the ever-wonderful Jason Schwartzman.

What makes Coppola’s biopic different from any other biopic that would cover the subject is that the movie does not wish to just recreate and portray a historic moment in time; Coppola is much more intrigued in showcasing Marie as a young, naïve, sometimes foolish girl. Who makes mistakes, cries, laughs and is quissentially human. Coppola breaks away from the iconic Queen Marie “let them eat cake” Antoinette and makes her appear to be what she really was; a young and somewhat misguided woman.

The movie takes place entirely within the confines of the magnificent Palace of Versailles (where the real Antoinette spent a lot of her time). Coppola was given an all access grant to the Palais and it only further contributes to make this film a must-watch. No set piece or fake location could capture even the essence of the beauty of Versailles so having the film set within there was a must for Coppola.

Alongside the incredible splendor of the grounds of Versailles we have a backdrop of music relaying from the 90’s – 00’s. This eclectic mix of music shouldn’t work with a biopic about a Queen who lived in the 16th century but completely does. Coppola cleverly mixes the Then with the Now and through familiar tunes and songs we form a deeper care and connection to the young Queen, which only Coppola knows how to do best.

– Ciara Gillespie

Somewhere (2010)

Within the first half-an-hour of Somewhere, the audience has seen two strip shows (from twins), countless ample bosoms, and a voyeuristic car chase reminiscent of Sean Connery in his “ninety-nine no’s and a yes, mean yes” prime. Sofia Coppola, though, does not show her audience the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as they are used to seeing it. Instead, she aptly uses the exact same lenses her father, Francis Ford Coppola, did in Rumble Fish. Apt because the protagonist, actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), is shown to crawl through his A-list lifestyle, numb to the spoils all others swoon over him for.

Lingering stills capture the isolation and banality of life at the top, forcing the audience to empathise with a protagonist on his last legs and his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), who begins to bring him back to something nearing happiness. The consistent lack of pace (and at times plot) does begin to grate, even with the comic relief provided by a creepily upbeat Chris Pontius. Yes, “party boy” from Jackass. Whereas in Lost in Translation Bill Murray forcibly drags his audience with him, Stephen Dorff lacks that gargantuan presence, and the film can meander rather than romp. In one scene Johnny is fitted with a prosthetic mask and left to sit still for 40 minutes, Coppola translates this into a 1:45m panning shot accompanied only by his breathing. Depending on your poignancy pallet this might be mesmerising, or like watching latex dry.

“I’m fucking nothing” Johnny says on the phone to his ex-wife near the end: This isn’t the rekindling of a father-daughter relationship it might be, more a beautifully shot exploration of teetering depression and isolation in a crowd.

– Magnus McGrigor

The Bling Ring (2013)

In 2010 Vanity Fair released an article about a small group of teenage friends who managed to break into some celebrity houses, based in Hollywood, and steal millions of dollars. This article inspired Sofia Coppola to direct, and write along with Nancy Jo Sales, The Bling Ring; a film that satirizes the meaningless, and shallow lives of a teenage group from L.A.

Influenced by fame, money and social media, Rebecca (Katie Chang) and Marc (Israel Broussard) decided to surround themselves with beautiful and expensive objects, so that they could show them off. Their private adventure started with just the two of them breaking into wealthy residences and some celebrity houses, and stealing few objects from them. By doing this, the owners would not notice they had being robbed. But at the end, they invited three more girls to their expensive secret, and googled other well known residences to steal valuable articles.

Coppola approached this story with a sensitive perspective. She makes the spectator feel the friendship between Marc and Rebecca, and almost pity them for their personals choices. Coppola narrates the story from the young group of friend’s perspective, making the audience understand their point of view.

A film that will keep you thinking about the banality of social media and fame, and the deconstructed reality they revealed. Because in the end, is it just fame and wealth that we all want?

– Mariana Diaz