Owen Gleiberman writes: Is Sofia Coppola ever going to take it to the next level? The answer may be no, and that could be fine. I consider myself a Coppola fan (though I didn’t care much for “The Beguiled”), and part of me thinks that she’s in the perfect place and always has been. In a directorial career that stretches back 18 years, she has made just six features. Only one of them, “Lost in Translation” (2003), ever put her at the center of the white-hot center. Tellingly, it was the one time that she deigned to build an entire film around the personality of a movie star (no sleight to Scarlett Johansson, who’s terrific it in, but that movie is defined by Bill Murray), and I feel like I understand why she hasn’t done it since. It’s part of her lone-wolf art mystique. The real star of her movies is Sofia Coppola. Which is fine. Or maybe it isn’t.
We’ve reached a point when a lot of people are asking — rightly — why there aren’t more women directors of power and influence in Hollywood. Yet Sofia Coppola has always been ahead of that curve, or maybe just beyond it. She’s on her own wavelength, working not just apart from the lockstep system of blockbuster imperatives but a layer or two outside the indie world.
At the start of each Sofia Coppola film, you see the logo of American Zoetrope, the film studio founded by her father and George Lucas and now owned, as a production company, by Sofia and her brother, Roman. That logo is at once a declaration of independence and a declaration of royalty. It says that she can make her films the way she wants to, in part because of who she is. It’s an enviable position, and Coppola has used it in the most admirable way possible. Her six movies are astoundingly diverse, shot and edited with an immaculate voice, every one of them an aesthetic adventure, a fluky vision that adds up. Each carries the fine-cut aura of being the precise movie she wanted to make.
What ties them together? Many observers have noted their overlapping themes of celebrity and privilege (“Marie Antoinette,” “Lost in Translation,” “Somewhere”), those themes occasionally targeted from the outside in (“The Bling Ring”), and there’s a more elusive motif of women living a step removed from the fray, in a bubble that’s also a trap (“The Beguiled,” “Marie Antoinette,” “The Virgin Suicides”). But when I think of sitting down to watch a Sofia Coppola film, either one that I’ve seen or a new one, what entices — and, on occasion, perplexes — me is the prospect of fusing with the Coppola Gaze.
Every good filmmaker has a gaze, a sensibility, a way of taking in the world, but in Coppola’s case the word is almost literal, because you can really feel her sitting there gazing, endlessly curious and fascinated, and more than a shade detached. Sofia Coppola is an immense contradiction as a filmmaker, because she’s a bold artist who goes her own way and has the audacity to work without a net, and has the craftsmanship to pull it off, yet there’s something almost cosmically passive about her point-of-view. She’s gazing, enraptured and absorbed, at the characters she creates, and she wants you to partake in that trance. As filmmaking strategies go, this isn’t a bad one (there have been a lot worse), yet as often as not it leaves the audience wanting more.
I watched “Marie Antoinette” again recently, a movie I’d had powerfully divided feelings about the first time. Once again, I was drawn into its world, and saw that it touched insider truths about royalty, yet by the end I felt the movie’s allure fizzling rather than cresting. This time, knowing what I was in store for, I was ready to meet Coppola on her idiosyncratic terms, yet I had the same enthralled-but-still-hungry experience. Half the film is brilliant: the sense that you’re there, in the baroquely preposterous splendor of Versailles, a place of unspeakable beauty and decadence … (read more)