Monday, November 06, 2006

Why I adore Sofia Coppola films

I just saw MARIE ANTOINETTE last weekend. It's the third film from Sofia Coppola and I really liked the movie. Kirsten Dunst gave a knock-out performance in the title role too. It's not the best movie of the year for me; however, I was captivated by it. I got to thinking about what it is I like about a Sofia Coppola film. Since I had previously decided only to blog about my number one film of the year, I figured I would just do a post about all three of Coppola's films.

Sofia Coppola has written and directed three films.

Honestly, I don't think I could like Sofia Coppola as writer and director any more than I do, except maybe, if I was a girl, I just might like her a bit more because I'd probably really have this "she gets me" feeling.

All of Sofia's films seem to capture the very essence of a female in emotional exile. Consider THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (2000). I really cared about Lux Lisbon. Played by Kirsten Dunst, Lux was totally isolated by her over-protective parents. I felt for her and all her sisters. What's weird, Sofia didn't pass judgement on the parents. She just let us see into the teenagers tragic lives as bystanders. Watching THE VIRGIN SUICIDES I got the sense that here's a writer and director who cares deeply about the situation of those teens. Their lonely circumstance and disconnection from the world weighed heavily on my heart after seeing film and for years to come. It's a film I own. I like this film for so many reasons. James Woods, Kathleen Turner, and Josh Hartnett are wonderful. As in all Sofia's movies, the music is fantastic. I'll never forget the classic phone call the curious boys make to the Lisbon girls wherein they play "Hello It's Me" by Todd Rundgren (In fact, I'm playing it as I type this and, although the song predates the film, I cannot hear it without associating it with the film--a connection that only a few great movies can do with a previously great song). In short, this movie is simply one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful movies I have ever seen. It's one of the best directorial debuts ever.

Kirsten Dunst as Lux Lisbon

Where the Lisbon sisters were in isolation at home because of their parents, there's Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, who's incommunicado in a hotel in Tokyo in LOST IN TRANSLATION. She tries to call a friend back home, but they don't understand her any more than her husband. He's too consumed by work to see her loneliness. What's most spectacular about this film is that Charlotte finds a lovestarved kindrid spirit in Bob Harris. Played fantastically by Bill Murray, Bob Harris is one of the reasons LOST IN TRANSLATION is my favorite Sofia Coppola film. I loved watching the connection made by Bob and Charlotte unfold. I've run into so many people that hated this movie and most of them just say something to the effect of "nothing happened" or "Why? Why do you like it?" I love that it's real, really real. Every conversation between Bob and Charlotte is one that I could imagine myself having. There was nothing forced, no Hollywood cookie-cutter phoney nonsense, just real life with all its beautiful yearning. More than anything, I cared for Charlotte and I loved the fact that both her and Bob knew that taking their relationship further wouldn't change anything about their detached spouses or their lives. LOST IN TRANSLATION is another film I own and it was my personal favorite film from 2003.

Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte

Having really enjoyed both THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and LOST IN TRANSLATION, I couldn't wait to see Sofia's third film and I must say MARIE ANTOINETTE didn't disappoint me. As of this writing, however, I would say it's my third favorite of her movies. Like Charlotte and Lux, Marie Antoinette is a woman who definately had my sympathies throughout the entire movie. I mean what's with the new husband not wanting to consummate their marriage? The poor young bride goes through something like seven years of celibacy after she's married! Is there a deeper sense of isolation than sharing a bed with someone and having them be completely uninterested? Yet, her own mother insists on putting all the blame on her daughter. The poor girl. She's literally stripped of everything she owned and loved and thrust into this fishbowl of a life at such an early age; who could blame her for being completely uninterested in the politics of her new country? This is a beautifully shot movie and I really liked how Sofia just lets us take it all in. As I've come to expect, there's no spoon-feeding here, no condescension. Again, maybe Antoinette was a "bad" queen, but the director doesn't pass judgement on her; rather, we're seeing France only from this young queen's point-of-view. Even though she's surrounded by people (so many that it's obscene), she has no real connections, nobody to bare her soul to. There are many shots that just hang there: the decadence of food and dress, Antoinette starring out a window, the young queen alone in nature. We're meant to feel what it was like to be this woman in her particular world. And, even though the young lady lived 200 years ago, Sofia somehow understands her. That's much of Sofia's genius, because she has utilized contemporary music, this doesn't feel like a detached period piece. Instead, this might as well be about a misunderstood teen living in our times.


Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette

The pacing of a Sofia Coppola film seems to be an issue for a lot of people. My wife, for example, thought MARIE ANTOINETTE was slow. However, this pacing is deliberate and it is perhaps the foremost quality that I admire in these three films from this brilliant writer/director. Recently, many of the people that I know (Chrisy included) who went on a "Road Trip" mission to South Africa last May came back and said that one of the big "take away" lessons they learned was that you don't always have to be "doing" something, that you can just "be" and that is often not only good enough, it's even preferable. I think the idea of just "being" is something I've desired from the medium of film for quite awhile. When I think about the antithesis of just "being there" in a Sofia Coppola film, the image that comes to mind is from another movie I saw earlier this year wherein Johnny Depp is running like a hamster in a big spinning runaway wheel. Although plenty was happening, I felt cheated at the end of the experience. To me, that type of experience is like a really busy day in which I have a long list of things I have to do and I've got to hurry and rush to get them all done. At the end of the day, I've got no recollection of the scenery or the people I didn't encounter. It's unfulfiling and the "people" I've met are reduced to cartoon characters. In contrast, a Sofia Coppola film feels like I've got no agenda and I just happened to run into a good friend or I meet an interesting stranger and we both chose to just sit around, talking, and intentionally be dilatory. She's the antonym of a summer popcorn film. As is clear by this post, I'll take spending two hours with any of Sofia's interesting ladies over spinning my wheels anytime. You see, I'd rather just linger with a fellow human being, exposing both our connectedness and our solitariness. That's why I adore a Sofia Coppola film: I can just be there and feel for the character, seeping in all the nonjudgemental emotional observation.

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16 Comments:

Anonymous The Uncool said...

I agree with all you said, and if I wasn't lazy I could probably add to it. I have cherished and analyzed her films since I caught Virgin Suicides twice in the theater run. Rare for me to do these days.

But for now, let me point out one flaw in Sofia. She's pregnant by some other guy that IS NOT ME! :)

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Blogger Mike Pena said...

I agree with this post...except that I have not seen Marie Antoinette so I cannot comment on it. However, Bothe The virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation were great films. I recently loaned both DVDs to people at work. One of them liked both films a lot. The other hasn't brought them back yet.

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