Coppola is a name that rings loud and clear throughout the film industry and evokes immediate association with high-calibre talent as the family of film-makers are a force to be reckoned with. Francis Ford Coppola is responsible for the classic crime drama The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), Roman Coppola co-wrote the 2012 Academy Award nominated Moonrise Kingdom and Gia Coppola made her directorial feature debut in 2013 with the critically successful Palo Alto, However, the focus of this So You Think You Know… is the one and only Sofia Coppola, daughter to Francis Ford, sister of Roman and aunt to Gia, and also the woman at the helm of some of the most quietly masterful and stylish films of the past 20 years.
Born in New York City, Coppola was raised in a rural area of California and was the youngest child and only daughter to her parents. She attended Mills College and the California Institute of the Arts but dropped out and created her own line of clothing (which is now sold exclusively in Japan). Her first foray into the world of film came at a young age as she made several background appearances in her father’s films but landed her most prominent acting role in The Godfather Part III (1990) where she played Michael Corleone’s daughter. However, her performance was panned by critics who noted the strong nepotism that clouded her casting. Coppola remarked upon the experience, “I was trying different things. It sounded better than college. I didn’t really thing about the public aspect of it. That took me by surprise.” She ended her acting career and turned her attention to film-making, firstly directing the short film Lick the Star (1998) and then following it up a year later with her feature film debut The Virgin Suicides which opened to acclaim and introduced the world to Coppola’s artistic sensibilities.
A recurring theme pervades Coppola’s work; the notion that women are always being watched but so rarely seen. The writer/director first introduced this in The Virgin Suicides that tells the story of five teenage sisters living in a middle class suburb. After the youngest sister makes a suicide attempt, their parents place the sisters under close scrutiny, eventually keeping them under virtual house arrest which leads to their increasingly depressive behaviour. The Virgin Suicides marked the first of three collaborations between Coppola and Kirsten Dunst and the actress has stated that her director immediately put her at ease, “She was always a good influence on me as a young woman”, adding, “She gave me confidence in little things that I wouldn’t necessarily have had.” The pair later worked together again on Marie Antoinette (2006) which Coppola wrote with Dunst in mind to play the titular role. At its premiere in Cannes, it received a divided reaction from critics – some lavished praise on the heavily stylised picture and offered a standing ovation whilst others booed in protest of its creative flourishes (such as its historical inaccuracies and contemporary soundtrack). But it continued the patter in Coppola’s work of exploring the loneliness and solitude that can arise from being a woman in a patriarchal society. The auteur is clearly enthralled by this theme and she executes her fascination with a distinctly unforgettable approach.
The director’s most recent film, The Beguiled (2017), also further explores the female psyche as it depicts a group of women and girls in Virginia during the American Civil War who compete for the attention of a wounded soldier that they decided to rehabilitate. The adaptation of the Thomas P. Cullinan novel A Painted Devil (the film is not a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 version) received rave reviews when it premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival; it was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or in its main competition section where Coppola won the Best Director award, becoming only the second woman in the festival’s history to do so. May that number continue to climb.
• The Virgin Suicides (1999)
• Lost in Translation (2003)
• Marie Antoinette (2006)
• Somewhere (2010)
• The Bling Ring (2013)
• The Beguiled (2017)
By Evie Brudenall