Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Subtlety of Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola began acting as a baby, in her father, Francis Ford Coppola’s, film The Godfather. She acted through her teens and late teens but was met with much criticism. She truly burst onto the scene as a director, when she made her first feature film The Virgin Suicides, an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides book of the same name. It’s a chilling portrait of adolescence in the 1970's suburbs, and manages to avoid the clichés which tend to ruin most films on this topic. What stands out most to me about this film is its subtlety. Cinematographer Edward Lachman, paints the characters in soft diffused light, the whole movie, which adds to the general ambience. The Virgin Suicides is very nearly a silent movie. The dialogue that exists is muttered almost in whispers, something that is a mainstay throughout her films. A muted color palette and simple framing is present through all her films:

These beautiful yet eerie images are interspersed with the film's more disturbing images:


Lost in Translation, was her next and probably most widely acclaimed film, winning awards around the world. This film sticks to a similar color scheme and again the subtlety dominates this film. Sofia Coppola has mastered squeezing the most emotion possible from the simplest gestures. She uses dialogue as a secondary tool and instead uses the dreamy imagery of each shot to move the viewer through different stages of emotion. This subtlety crosses over into the plot as well. The film stars Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray who even though they don’t do as much as kiss, manage to involve you in a deep passionate love story. Handled by another director, this film could have fallen into sappy, melodramatic mush, but with Sofia Coppola it stands as a gentle and beautiful statement on loneliness and friendship in Tokyo.

In recent years Sofia Coppola is known for Marie Antoinette, Somewhere, and her latest film The Bling Ring. These films stay in the quiet subtle realm that her earlier films created. This is true, especially in Somewhere which makes many people uncomfortable with its endless shots of banal actions, such as a car driving around a track, and strippers pole dancing, very awkwardly. Through these endless scenes Coppola builds tension and mood.

The mood of her films are probably the most striking things about them. From the first shot to the last a kind of haze sets over the film. This is why her films can capture audiences so completely. She manipulates viewers not by over the top action or drama but by leading them through the moods of the character’s lives. Through this subtlety Coppola’s films wash over the audience and leave an impact that the viewer may not even be aware of.

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