Sofia Coppola is part of one of the most influential families in the art industries, with both her father and her grandfather having won Academy Awards. Regardless, in her own right, she is an acclaimed filmmaker and won the Oscar for Best Writing for an Original Screenplay back in 2003 for Lost in Translation. But before this and after directing two short films, Coppola arrived on the scene with The Virgin Suicides, an adaption of Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel of the same name, which focuses on a group of enigmatic sisters that a collection of males become infatuated with.
Coppola’s poetic aesthetic exists with such weight in her debut film that it is near an impossibility to not watch the film in awe; it is a visual feast. The group of girls are shot on camera so skilfully and their very ethereal and diaphanous representation is hypnotising and captures you. Kirsten Dunst’s performance is unusually outstanding, and she revels in the role of Lux Lisbon. The khaki colour palette with a sunset hue creates a mellow, mesmerising tone that shows Coppola’s creative eye.
The girls being viewed from the perspective of the fascinated males demonstrates the isolated, intangible – and mainly rich – females that we now know characterise a Sofia Coppola film. If we look at Coppola’s most recent feature, The Bling Ring (2013), it is purely saturated with the exploration of rich individuals that obsessively focus on the need to prosper in the capitalist society that suffocates them. We also see evidence of this in the limp Marie Antoinette (2006), focusing on the ill-fated queen. It needs to be noted, however, that Coppola – who clearly enjoys embellishing her films with ostentatious visuals – does slip into style over substance in the 2006 feature. The Virgin Suicides is not a victim of this though; it intricately examines the lives of trapped, depressed girls and the film’s melodious aesthetic only helps to emphasise their internal distress. It is far from a showy display and has emotional depth.
Coppola’s films that are visibly similar to her debut are Lost in Translation (2003), Coppola’s only Oscar-winning film thus far, and Somewhere (2010) with them all rather visually-tame in comparison to the flamboyancy that occasionally rears its head in Coppola’s filmography. Their naturalistic appearance creates more of a rawness to Coppola’s inspection of the rich and their troubles. The characters within these films are far from happy despite their riches and Coppola effectively tracks the breakdown of the façade and exposes authentic misery.
Marie Antoinette (2006) is Coppola’s worst film and following from her debut and then her Oscar-winning film, it falls terribly flat. The themes of affluent and well-off people drown the film, sucking any kind of substance from its narrative and replacing it with melodramatic costume and crass performances. The blend of the beautiful filmmaking that Coppola displayed in her first two films along with a compelling narrative that contained a lot of characterisation was lost, and Coppola created a film that was terribly splashy.
Following the 2006 failure, Coppola returned with the fantastic Somewhere (2010) which showed Coppola exploring her first male lead (but still rich). The film deviated slightly from her debut and other films, but maintained Coppola’s techniques with characterial twists. Finally, The Bling Ring (2013) was something that split viewers but, personally, the film was fascinating and brought Coppola back to where she belongs: an intriguing director with a fascination for the bourgeois life as well as those with aspirations for it. She sometimes dwells on the rich life, she sometimes indulges in it and she sometimes criticises it. Regardless of this inconsistency or confusion of message, it is always compelling.
Despite her debut film being based on a book written by another artist, Coppola wrote the script and directed the film and by doing so, created her trademark vision. Yes, Coppola quite often slips into pretentious filmmaking with little substance. But at other times, the director manages to craft spectacular social examinations that also appeal to the eye, making the wait for her upcoming adaptation, The Little Mermaid, even more antagonising.