In Depth

People In Film | Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola | Beginnings

Playing Michael Corleone’s newborn son in her father’s modern classic, The Godfather, Somewhere’s writer-director Sofia Coppola was born into the movie business. Growing up in an extended family of moviemakers, actors, and film professionals, film was all around her. Asked once in an interview about the stresses of that life, she revealed that she was never separated from her dad because of his work, even accompanying him on the arduous Apocalypse Now shoot when she was only four. “Actually,I was in the Philippines with him,” she told Salon. “He wasn’t absentee at all. I didn’t think it was normal, but it was exciting. You always had lots of creative people around, and my parents took us everywhere. I got exposed to so many different cultures and people. I mean, I got to go to Kurosawa's house as a child.”

Sofia Coppola | Acting and Writing

In 1986, Sofia Coppola was cast as Kathleen Turner’s sister in her father’s Peggy Sue Got Married, and in 1989 she wrote a short, Life without Zoe, that was her father’s contribution to the 1989 anthology picture, New York Stories. And then, when Winona Ryder dropped out at the last minute, her father cast her in his long-awaited The Godfather: Part III as Michael and Kay Corleone’s daughter Mary. She spoke of the experience to The Guardian’s Ella Taylor  in 2003. “I’ll try anything once,” she said. “I’m more interested in set-design, more visually driven. I was just trying to help out.” After The Godfather: Part III,  Coppola stepped behind the camera, becoming a creator in the world of film, video and fashion.

Sofia Coppola | Modeling and Milk Fed

In the 90s, Coppola began the next phase of her career as a creative artist in the fashion world. Before graduating high school she interned with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. “I made Xeroxes, I fetched people coffee... the kind of menial tasks that interns do,” she later told The Onion. “But I was right in the thick of it when they were working on the collections, so I got to watch them go from working sketches to final designs.” After attending Mills College and CalArts, Coppola briefly modeled and also appeared in music videos, including Stéphane Sednaoui’s Times Square romance, “Sometimes Salvation.” In 1994, along with Stephanie Hayman and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, she launched a fashion line, Milk Fed. Coppola designed the colorful, casual clothes, which were sold predominantly in Japan in only small and extra-small sizes. “I make things that I want, things that you look for and can’t find,” she told MTV’s House of Style. She kept the line inexpensive, she said, “so people can afford it but also because you don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that you’re only going to wear for a little while [before] you get bored with it.”

Sofia Coppola | First films

In 1998, Coppola made her first short film and, a year later, her debut feature. Both works dealt with high school, social cliques, and death. In the 14-minute Lick the Star, written by Coppola and Stephanie Hayman, four junior high school girls plot to poison boys at their school with arsenic. A year later came The Virgin Suicides, adapted by Coppola from the Jeffrey Eugenides novel. Here, both the parents and high-school boys in a 1970s Michigan town are mystified and disturbed by the suicides of five of their classmates — sisters. The film stars Kirsten Dunst, James Woods and Kathleen Turner, and is narrated by Giovanni Ribisi, whose character 25 years later remains fascinated by the girls and the enigma of their deaths. With a dreamy soundtrack by the French duo Air, the film masterfully evoked the styles and attitudes of ‘70s youth culture while also acknowledging the ways in which we continually process our pasts throughout our whole lives. “How does [Lick the Stars] relate to The Virgin Suicides?” Coppola asked herself in an interview with The Onion. “Well, the girls in [Lick The Star] were a little younger, like seventh grade. I just remember seventh grade as being really difficult, because there's nothing meaner than a girl at that age…. There's something about being a teenager that's so sincere. Everything is more epic, like your first crush. I feel that it's not always portrayed very accurately.” The Virgin Suicides premiered at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, received its U.S. premiere at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, and Coppola won Best New Director at the MTV Music Awards. Wrote Dennis Lim in the Village Voice, “Sofia Coppola's thoughtfully crafted portrait of lost (or embalmed) adolescence is suffused with a wistfulness so consuming it transcends nostalgia.”

Sofia Coppola | Tokyo Song

With her second feature, the beguiling story of a young American woman visiting Tokyo and her not-quite-romantic relationship with an older actor staying at her hotel, Sofia Coppola became only the third female director to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award. In Lost in Translation, Coppola’s ability to create mood and portray the dreamy, slightly melancholy contemplation of her lead characters was married to a simple but deeply resonant tale of friendship in a foreign land. Scarlett Johansson plays Charlotte, the girlfriend of a photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) on assignment in Tokyo, who explores the city with Bob (Bill Murray), a mid-life crisis-stricken movie star. Murray gives a touching, hilarious, and times honestly painful performance that cannily plays off the actor’s real-life persona. Of Charlotte, Coppola told Anne Thompson in Filmmaker Magazine, “It’s narcissistic. I relate to her. I liked her demeanor; she’s understated, not extroverted and hyper. There’s a part of me in that character. She’s in her early 20s, having a breakdown, like the girl Franny in Franny and Zooey. It’s a culmination of different stages of my life in that character.” Said Johansson, “Sofia bleeds through the character — her ironic sense of humor, that feeling of being lost and disillusioned and trying to figure out what direction you want to take with your life.” In addition to her Best Director nomination, the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay, which Coppola won. The critics were rapturous, and in his New York Times review, Elvis Mitchell saw a common thread in Coppola’s work. “In the handful of films she has done – including her short, Lick the Star – Ms. Coppola has shown an interest in emotional way stations. Her characters are caught between past and future – lost in transition. Perhaps her films are a kind of ongoing metaphorical autobiography, but no matter. The important point is that there's a lot up there on the screen, plenty to get lost in.”

Sofia Coppola | Versailles

For her follow-up to Lost in Translation, Coppola traveled to France to take on one of the country’s most iconic historical figures. Marie Antoinette tells the story of this daughter of an Austrian countess who marries her second cousin, becomes the Queen of France, and then becomes a symbol of royal excess during the French Revolution. For her take, Coppola mixed historical detail with cultural anachronism, paying fealty to the locations of the story (she shot in the actual Palace of Versailles) while focusing more on Antoinette’s inner life than the politics around her.  Coppola reunited with her Virgin Suicides star Kirsten Dunst, who played the title character, and the cast also included Jason Schwarztman, Judy Davis, Asia Argento and Marianne Faithfull. The soundtrack featured ‘80s New Wave like New Order and Gang of Four. When the film premiered in competition at Cannes in 2006, critics were split. Roger Ebert wrote a spirited defense of the movie, noting, “Every criticism I have read of this film would alter its fragile magic and reduce its romantic and tragic poignancy to the level of an instructional film.” As for the film’s mixture of the period and the modern Coppola said, “My biggest fear was making a ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ kind of movie. I didn’t want to make a dry, historical period movie with the distant, cold tableau of shots. It was very important to me to tell the story in my own way. In the same way as I wanted Lost in Translation to feel like you had just spent a couple of hours in Tokyo, I wanted this film to let the audience feel what it might be like to be in Versailles during that time and to really get lost in that world.”

Sofia Coppola | Checking into the Chateau

With her new Somewhere, Sofia Coppola has made a touching, delicate film that is as intimate in its focus as her Marie Antoinette was grand. As she told Anne Thompson at indieWIRE, “After Marie Antoinette, which was really fun and over the top, but it just involved so many people, I thought, ‘oh I’d really like to go back to doing something more intimate where I can just focus on one or two characters and a small crew.’” Somewhere tells the story of a burnt-out Hollywood actor, Johnny Marco, living at the Chateau Marmont while doing press for his new feature. When his ex-wife unexpectedly drops their 11-year-old daughter Cleo off at the Chateau, Johnny brings her into the fantasy world of his celebrity life while allowing their time together to point another forward for him. Comments Coppola, “The character of Cleo was inspired by a friend’s kid that age whose parents are in show business, but also by my memories of having a powerful father that people are attracted to being around and having a dad who did things that were kind of out of the ordinary. It’s not all me, but there’s things from my childhood.” Coppola premiered the film at Venice, where she had first shown Lost in Translation, and won the top prize. Quentin Tarantino headed the jury, and he said, “This film enchanted us from its first screening. It has the artistry we were looking for in a Golden Lion.”


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