Sofia Coppola speaks softly and carries a big camera
Hearing Sofia Coppola’s soft, meandering and borderline valley girl voice in interviews, the last thing you would imagine her doing is yelling on a film set. Her films share her quiet demeanor and almost always leave their own distinct marks on critics and audiences.
Coppola has succeeded in cutting her own swath in Hollywood separate from her father, the iconic “Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” director Francis Ford Coppola.
One of the few prominent female directors in Hollywood, her less-is-more filmmaking style is very distinct, emphasizing mood and atmosphere over heavy plots and dialogue.
With her latest film, “Somewhere,” playing at The Tampa Theatre through this week, Scene & Heard offers a primer on her body of work thus far.
“The Virgin Suicides”(1999)
Coppola found the perfect source material for her first feature in Jeffery Eugenides’ 1993 novel of the same name.
The story of a group of spellbound teenaged boys’ obsession with sprite-like sisters who all eventually commit suicide over the course of a year is told in a dreamlike haze that evokes what has become Coppola’s trademark style.
The film mixes elements of dry humor and teenage tragedy to make a bittersweet tale of childhood’s end.
Coppola took full advantage of the novel’s 1970s setting and makes the film play out like a sun-drenched Super 8 filmed memory, with a memorable soundtrack of era-appropriate AM radio hits and an outstanding electronic score by French musical duo Air.
“Lost in Translation” (2003)
Coppola’s sophomore effort would prove her most critically and commercially successful film to date, winning her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
The film paints a sympathetic portrait of an aging movie star and a newlywed bride, played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, crossing paths in a Tokyo hotel. They build an odd father-daughter-type friendship to help deal with their shared loneliness and jet-lagged culture shock.
Largely a character piece offering much room for improvisation, the film won Bill Murray much critical acclaim and a pile of accolades.
“Lost in Translation’s” runaway success helped pull Coppola even further from the shadow of her family’s name and allowed critics and naysayers to see that she has a distinct filmmaking voice of her own.
“Marie Antoinette” (2006)
While “Lost in Translation” was almost unanimously lauded, Coppola’s next effort, “Marie Antoinette,” would sharply divide critics with its highly unorthodox take on the life of the infamous French queen.
Kirsten Dunst, reuniting with Coppola after being a lead in “The Virgin Suicides,” played the title role of the film, which explored Marie Antoinette’s heavily-sheltered life within the Palace of Versailles leading up to the French Revolution.
Rather than focusing on the politics of the time or on the minute historical details of the ill-fated monarch’s life, Coppola decided to have the film zero in on Antoinette’s mental and emotional alienation within the excesses of the French court, portraying her as a misunderstood young woman taking solace in her more frivolous side.
Despite the film’s jaw dropping visual look being praised, its free-flowing plot and unique blend of modern and historical influences, most notably Coppola’s decision to mix classical rococo and 1980’s romantic pop on the soundtrack, turned off critics expecting a more traditional take on the material.
However, the movie has garnered a dedicated following, and costume designer Milena Canonero took home an Oscar for her eye-popping costumes that had the fashion world salivating.
After the opulence of “Marie Antoinette,” Coppola opted to make her next film a smaller and more intimate production.
Set in the infamous Hollywood Chateau Marmont hotel, “Somewhere” tells the story of a bad boy movie star, played by Stephen Dorff, suddenly having his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) fall into his care, forcing him to reflect on his decadent and largely empty lifestyle.
The film mixes “Lost in Translation’s” hotel interiors with the glare of modern-day, celebrity obsessed Hollywood. Coppola takes a more aggressively minimalist approach to the material, making a sparse and hypnotic film that brings her trademark understatement to a new level.
Dorff and Fanning’s performances have garnered a large amount of acclaim, and the film received a much warmer reception from the critics than “Marie Antoinette,” taking home the Golden Lion for best picture at the Venice Film Festival.