In the first of a new series celebrating the work of female directors, STACK turns the spotlight on the other famous Coppola, Sofia, whose blend of dreamlike aesthetic and indie cool has made her a powerful and distinct voice in a male-dominated arena.
“There are so many more female directors than when I started. That’s encouraging. Maybe it’s because it’s such an all-encompassing job, and if you have a family, it’s harder to do. But there are female surgeons. And there are plenty of women working in the film business.” – Sofia Coppola
Movies are part of the Coppola family’s DNA, and nepotism notwithstanding, Sofia Coppola has followed the lead of famous father Francis Ford and established herself as an acclaimed filmmaker with a distinctive signature.
She is also the first American woman and the second female filmmaker to win the Best Director award at Cannes, for The Beguiled in 2017.
Sofia made her movie debut before she turned one, as the baby boy who is christened in The Godfather. Following bit parts in several of her father’s films, she landed the more substantial role of Mary Corleone in The Godfather: Part III (after Winona Ryder dropped out). However, her hammy performance put an end to an acting career she’d never really desired, leading Sofia to find her true calling behind the camera.
Having directed six features to date, Sofia Coppola has developed a signature style and aesthetic that’s best described as dreamlike. Soft lighting and contemporary soundtracks complement stories of melancholic outsiders, with some deadpan levity to lighten the tone. Her assured debut feature, The Virgin Suicides (1999), and her most recent film, The Beguiled (2017), are suffused with this ethereal mood.
The female voice speaks loudly in Coppola’s films. In The Beguiled it’s the residents of a Southern girls school, who take control of a situation involving a wounded Civil War soldier; and in her gaudy revisionist take on France’s infamous queen, Marie Antoinette (2006), the lonely monarch struggles to live up to the demands placed upon her.
While female protagonists feature prominently, she is also drawn to the male perspective, as with Lost in Translation (2003) – a terrific vehicle for the great Bill Murray – and her fourth film, Somewhere (2010), starring Stephen Dorff. Indeed, Lost in Translation put Coppola on Hollywood’s radar with an Oscar for Original Screenplay and nominations for Best Picture and Director – not bad for a sophomore film!
With a father who is Hollywood royalty, it’s not surprising celebrity culture is another recurring theme in Coppola’s films; it can be a burden inviting loneliness and ennui (Somewhere), or the allure to a group of teens that burgle the homes of the rich and famous (The Bling Ring, 2013).
Sofia Coppola’s impressive and diverse body of work couldn’t be further removed from the masculine worlds of her father’s films like Apocalypse Now, Rumble Fish and The Outsiders, and she consistently surprises with whatever project she chooses to do next. “I feel like when I finish one, the next one is always a reaction to the one before,” she has said. “I try to just make what I want to make or what I would want to see. I try not to think about the audience too much.”
The Virgin Suicides