Selected filmography: Lost in Translation (2003), Marie Antoinette (2006)
Sofia Coppola catches a lot of flak. No surprise, given that she's the daughter of a famous director. Yet despite the cries of nepotism, she's proven to be a resilient figure with a style all her own, one that escapes her father’s name and turns her own name into an adjective tossed around in film classes. That's so Sofia Coppola.
What does that mean? A lot, actually. It means the image looks like it’s shot through a sun shower. It means the story is told between the lines, in the silence around each character. It means that you can re-experience the film just by playing back the carefully curated soundtrack. It means that every shot and every prop has a purpose. But most of all, it doesn’t feel fake. She writes and directs what she knows: the stories of troubled young women lost in a culture of excess, celebrity obsession, and superficial charms. A culture that isn't kind to women. Coppola composes the now.
In her Oscar-winning Lost in Translation, she examines the life of lonely young wife (Scarlett Johansson) whose photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) is so engrossed in his Hollywood work that she finds solace in a washed-up actor (Bill Murray) staying in the same Tokyo hotel as the couple. What could be a picture of upper-crust vanity becomes a universal story about a man and woman who’ve become so disenchanted with their lives that they cling to the one real thing they can find. In Tokyo, surrounded by signs they can’t read and small talk they can’t translate, they understand no one in the chaos but each other. Coppola is a master at finding the essence of an idea—in Lost in Translation’s case, it’s delivered by Bill Murray in one poignant line: “The more you know about who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you”—and building an entire movie around it.
In her infamous Marie Antoinette, best known for being booed at Cannes, she took a very liberal take on the controversial French monarch. But, considering the '90s' Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, any other approach from her would’ve felt forced. Rather than running with the tried-and-true version of a period piece, Coppola presented Marie Antoinette as Thirteen set in the 18th century. Never has a historical figure felt so familiar. Decorated with pastry-like accoutrement, the film is a portrait of a young girl (Kirsten Dunst) forced to grow up too soon, and in the public eye. Sound familiar? Essentially, Coppola presented her as the Lindsay Lohan of her generation, and that message couldn't be more clear. Adding together the miscommunication Marie has with her husband and royal contemporaries, the hidden pair of Chuck Taylors, the music from New Order, the Cure, and Gang of Four, and the Valley girl accent Marie uses when she actually gets the chance to speak for herself, Marie Antoinette is an impressive portrait of youth in all its unpolished edges and flaws.
Coppola's project has remained unwavering in the second decade of the aughts with Somewhere and The Bling Ring. She's unafraid to meditates on the fickle, delicate, bored, and shallow, turning them into tragedies worth paying attention to. —Tara Aquino