A new Sofia Coppola film starring ad- opted Nashvillian Nicole Kidman is enough of a reason for the Belcourt Theatre to give the filmmaker the Director Spotlight treatment. Add Coppola’s recent best director win at the Cannes Film Festival for The Beguiled, and this series becomes a salute to one of America’s great movie making families, and a celebration of women both behind and in front of the camera.
The series includes all five of Coppola’s previous features plus the brand new The Beguiled – a feminist reboot of the 1971 Don Siegel Southern Gothic drama starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. Coppola’s filmography is a varied handful of flicks that skips from the suburban ennui of the Virgin Suicides to the rock ‘n’ roll royals of Marie Antoinette to the dreamy poetry of Lost in Translation. The Bling Ring is a blast, but Somewhere might be tonemeister Coppola’s most masterfully moody meditation.
Crank up the Jesus and Mary Chain and check my notes on each film:
The Virgin Suicides
With her 1999 debut feature, The Virgin Suicides, Sophia was already showing us what we might expect from this Coppola’s movies: carefully considered soundtracks and scores, the subtle orchestration of mise-en-scène to create precise moods, Kirsten Dunst. Coppola’s first collaboration with the actress isn’t a traditional coming-of-age flick, but it’s hard to think of a movie that captures the confused intensity of adolescence as devastatingly as this one does. I spent my childhood in Detroit and this film takes place in the tiny Motown suburb of Grosse Pointe. The film has always felt extra familiar to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again and remembering where this celebrated director began.
Lost in Translation
The Virgin Suicides is based on the eponymous novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, but Copolla followed-up her debut with an Academy Award-winning original screenplay, an Oscar-nominated dramatic performance by Bill Murray and that opening shot of Scarlett Johansson’s butt. Lost in Translation is kind of about a sort of fling between a jaded, married American actor and a neglected newlywed in Tokyo – but they never have sex or profess their love for one another. In fact, not much really happens in the film, but the glances, silences, beautiful bits of dialogue, Murray’s hangdog mug, Johansson’s charming sincerity and Coppola’s resisting the easy tropes of formula rom coms make Lost in Translation a classic meditation on modern love. By the time the theater speakers begin to shake with the opening power chords of Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey,” Coppola gives us an affair to remember.
Coppola’s second collaboration with Dunst finds the actress in the title role of of a film about a doomed monarch, Marie Antoinette. The director dismisses the assumptions of the period film genre, telling the tale from the point of view of the teenage queen-to-be who bucks against authority and tradition in favor of parties, expensive clothes and gambling. Coppola ignores most historical and political context in favor of a personal portrait about a strong-willed girl with opinions and ideas and more power and wealth than most adults ever know. I understand the argument that Coppola lets style subvert substance here, but with her rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack and girls-just-wanna-have-fun re-imagining of the days before the French Revolution, Coppola gives us different kind of history lesson that’s hard to forget.
Somewhere explores the relationship be- tween a self-centered actor (Stephen Dorff) and his estranged 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning). This movie reminds me of Lost In Translation in its very subtle observing of two people developing an intimate bond without the help of predictable plotting or genre generalizations. From another original script by Coppola, Somewhere is also a movie about Hollywood and about fame, and it may be the director’s most personal film to date.
I haven’t seen Coppola’s version of The Beguiled, but the director’s third collaboration with Dunst was a big hit at Cannes this year. The 1971 original is very popular in France where it’s considered to be among Clint Eastwood’s best films. In this story about a wounded Civil War soldier recovering at a girls’ boarding school, Coppola focuses her camera on points of view of the girls and the women in the story. For her trouble she became only the second woman ever to win the best director nod at the festival.
The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring makes a good match with Somewhere – they both share their Los Angeles setting, and they both take the pitfalls of fame as a theme. The movie tells the true story of a gang of teenage bandits who burglarize the homes of stars like Paris Hilton and Orlando Bloom. The Bling Ring offers a uniquely satirical take on the true crime genre, giving us Coppola’s funniest film along with a searing critique of reality TV culture and the false fortunes of fame.
Director Spotlight Sofia Coppola screens June 7–July 5 at the Belcourt Theatre. Go to www.belcourt.org for times and tickets.