Auteur of the Week: Sofia Coppola

That’s the way I work: I try to imagine what I would like to see. – Sofia Coppola

Wiki Bio Breakdown:

Sofia Coppola was born into filmroyalty in 1971.  She was introduced to show business at a young age, appearing as Michael Corleone’s godchild in her father’s classic The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972).  She continued to act in her father’s films as a young girl, falling in love with the family business. After attending Mills College, she briefly studied at the California Institute of the Arts before dropping out.  Coppola went on to create her own clothing line, Milkfed, before making her first short film Lick the Star in 1998.  Shot on 16mm black and white, the film follows a clique of four teenage girls led by “the queen of 7th grade,” Chloe.  Chloe creates a secret plan with the girls to “lick the star,” which spells “kill the rats” backwards.  The girls plan to use rat poison to “weaken” the boys they don’t like at their school.  Before they could carry out their plan, gossip turns a snide statement Chloe says about slavery into a racist offense, turning the entire school against her.  The film shows early signs of Coppola’s trademark style: themes of isolation and identity, the trauma of adolescence, and a stylish film form.  Lick the Star was shot only one year before Coppola’s feature film debut, The Virgin Suicides (1999).
 
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Lick the Star(1998)
The Virgin Suicides, based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, premiered at Sundance and continued Coppola’s exploration of adolescence.   She won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for her second feature film, Lost in Translation (2003).  A comedy-drama following an unlikely friendship between aging actor Bob and young college grad Charlotte, the film was adored by critics and audiences around the world for its meditation on love and the search for identity.  Coppola’s follow-up to Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette (2006), polarized audiences due to its stylized mise-en-scene, modern soundtrack, and blasé look at history.  However, like the rest of her filmmography, Marie Antoinette highlights a person’s search for him/herself at a young age amongst a lifestyle surrounded by excess and expectation.  Coppola’s most recent films, Somewhere (2010) and TheBling Ring (2013), explore these themes in modern, upper-class Los Angeles.  
 
Critics occasionally accuse Coppola’s work of nepotism and a lackof substance; however, her films reveal that she has her own voice despite her family name.  While on the surface her films may seem more concerned with style than form, the films explore the liminal stages of people’s lives ranging from puberty to mid-life crisis and how these shape and influence their identities.  Whether likeable or not, her characters experience the very human emotion of desire – for love, for friendship, and for material things.
 
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The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Coppola’s Mise-en-Scene: A World of Excess

Sofia Coppola’s chic style draws influence from JeanLuc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, and pop culture fashion and music videos.  Lick the Star features long shots of the main character walking in slow-motion, hip music, and trendy 1990’s fashion.  The rest of her films follow in similar pattern, using fashion, cityscapes, music, and props to create lavish worlds of the past or present.  Many viewers quickly assume an association between the upper-class sensibilities in Coppola’s mise-en-scene to her personal life; yet, Coppola strategically uses mise-en-scene to commentate how excess affects people who live affluently or who desire it.
 
For instance, the Palace of Versailles in Marie Antoinette is a royal playground.  A montage set to the Bow Wow Wow’s ”I Want Candy” features Marie Antoinette and her friends picking out clothes and accessories while eating fancy desserts.  The camera pans over rows of shoes and tilts over flowing pieces of fabric.  A long shot of Antoinette and her friends shows them oo-ing and ah-ing at the items while close-ups of treats, jewels, shoes, fans, champagne, and money reveal the spoils of their playtime. This sequence serves as a look at the excessive behavior of royalty in the 1700’s. However, set to a modern pop song and featuring a piece of modern fashion, Converse sneakers, the sequence suggests that today’s “royalty,” i.e. celebrities, act the same way.  Whether actual royalty or those desiring it, people obsess over material wealth and may face sudden downfall as consequence to their actions.
 
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Satin slippers and Converse in Marie Antoinette (2006)
Coppola’s most recent film, The Bling Ring, executes its mise-en-scene in similar style.  Based on actual events, the film follows a group of teenagers as they break into celebrities’ homes and steal clothes, jewelry, shoes, and money.  The group’s obsession with celebrity feeds their compulsion to steal as they desire to look and live like those that they rob – Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Megan Fox, and Orlando Bloom.  Similar to Marie Antoinette, montages combine close-ups of luxurious items with long shots of the teens trying on the clothes and snooping throughout the celebrity houses.  Although the teens are caught and charged for their crimes at the end of the film, the ending holds some ambiguity as the audience is left to question whether or not the juveniles learned from their mistakes.   Media’s obsession with celebrity and the influx of pop culture dictates how teens see themselves and who they want to become as adults.  The ambiguous ending to The Bling Ringforces viewers to question how they view celebrity culture and material wealth because although the film seems over the top, it is in fact reality.
 
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The Bling Ring (2013)

Sofia Coppola’s flair for style continues to awe audiences everywhere. She masters telling stories of identity and desire with a subtle combination of comedy and drama.  Sometimes exaggerated, sometimes ambiguous, but always real, Coppola’s films serve as a time capsule, depicting how life looks in today’s society.  As a director with barely a decade of filmmaking under her belt and many more to come, Coppola will serve as an inspiration to young filmmakers for future generations.

 

Author: Gina Marie Ezzone is a senior at Denison University where she studies Cinema and Queer Studies. She is the president of the Denison Film Society where she works as a programmer and projectionist. This summer she is the Programs Assistant Intern at Facets. Check out her work on Vimeo.
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