Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola was born in New York City in 1971. She is the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola and Elena Coppola. Sofia was born into a very talented family. Her father was and still is a famous director and her grandfather was a talented composer. She started out acting when she was an infant and made several different background appearances in her father’s movies as a child. As she got older and graduated from college, she landed some bigger roles in her father’s movies and even one that was unrelated to her father. Sofia has also appeared in several music videos in the 1990’s.
However, it was in 1989, that she co-directed her first film with her father, titled Life Without Zoe. It was a short film, part of an anthology called New York Stories. After this she went on to direct several films on her own; her first was Lick the Star, released in 1998. Two later films, which I’ll look at for this article are The Virgin Suicides (1999), and Marie Antoinette (2006). The Virgin Suicides was the second film both written and directed by Sofia. It is an American drama that takes place in an upper middle class suburb of Detroit, Michigan during the 1970’s. It tells a story about the suicides of five sisters and the obsession the neighbors (four boys in particular) have with trying to figure out why they killed themselves.

There is a scene about a half way through the movie where one of the five sisters, Lux, played by Kirsten Dunst, is sitting in a theater hall at school watching an educational film about hurricanes with a bunch of other students. There is an empty seat next to her, which becomes occupied by the school heartthrob, Trip, played by Josh Hartnett. Trip has become obsessed with trying to get Lux’s attention because she is the one girl who seems to care less about him and his looks. As he sits down, she goes from slouching in her seat to sitting upright. He looks at her as he sits down and, feeling his eyes on her, she rolls hers in what appears to be annoyance.
Prior to this, their only contact had been when he first saw her. He ducked into her history class on accident while trying to avoid running into the school’s vice-principal. He had just come from his car where he was smoking pot and did not want to have to explain why he was not in class and also why he smelt like weed. So he ducked into the first classroom he came to and sat down in the first seat he saw. Lux was at the desk in front him. She turned around and smiled at him, and that was all it took. He walked past her in the hallway and he was dumbfounded when she did not even look at him. So, when he saw her in the theater hall with an empty seat next to her, he seized his opportunity.

After Trip sits down, and Lux adjusts herself in her seat, they both are looking forward with half smiles on their faces. It is at this point you start to feel that this whole time Lux has wanted the attention from Trip but was probably just playing hard to get. Their smiles stay on their faces and they take turns sneaking glances at each other. After a minute or so of this, they both lean their elbows on the same armrest and they touch. Lux lays her arm all the way down on the armrest and Trip follows shortly after. Their pinky fingers touch each other and as they slowly start to move toward holding hands, another kid in the theater makes a loud, obnoxious noise, causing them to be startled and move away from each other. Embarrassed and nervous after all of this, Trip gets up to leave, but before he does he whispers in her ear that she is a “stone cold fox.” She keeps her eyes facing forward but is smiling and then giggles as he leaves.
During this scene, you feel awkward, excited, nervous and uncomfortable. Here are two teenagers, one with lots of experience in getting attention from girls and not having to do much to receive it, and another with no experience, who is kept away from the outside world except for when she is at school. Trip has to get out of his comfort zone and pursue Lux, while Lux has to deal with being pursued by what is considered to be the coolest, most good-looking guy at school. Teenage years are such an awkward time in a person’s life and then you add having to deal with feelings and talking to the opposite sex, it just makes for such a nerve-wracking experience. This scene does a great job in replicating this experience in a teenager’s life.
The theater is dark, except for the light from the movie, which casts its light upon their faces and adds an overall green hue to the scene. The camera shot is close up on both of them. Lux is chewing gum the whole time, sort of slowly, almost as if trying to draw attention to her mouth. Trip shifts uncomfortably in his seat the whole time while trying to get Lux to look at him. The music from the movie that is playing seems to coincide perfectly with this interaction that is going on between the two of them. It seems to slowly intensify the situation as they get closer and closer to holding hands and then breaks away to calm when they are interrupted. There is not too much color in this scene, which seems to be a foreshadowing of what is going to happen near the end of the movie. It is a very even-toned grey scale color scheme, except for her light pink lips. This seems to be a symbol of some hope for her character as she tries to break free from her lock down of a life and also seems to touch on her rebellious nature, which we see in the scenes to follow.
Sofia Coppola did a great job casting Kirsten Dunst to play Lux in The Virgin Suicides. She must have been impressed with her performance in this film because she cast her again in a later film she wrote and directed, Marie Antoinette. Kirsten Dunst has such an angelic yet mysterious look about her and she fits the role of Marie perfectly.
Marie Antoinette is biographical film based on the life of Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna. She was the duchess of Austria, married off to Prince Louis XVI at the age of 15 to seal an alliance between Austria and France. This movie tells of her questionable behavior while Queen of France, spending massive amounts of money on shoes and clothing, running around to masked balls and failing to produce an heir to the throne. She and Louis XVI eventually do conceive a child, but her expensive taste causes the people of France to blame her for the nation’s debt. There is a scene towards the beginning of the film, where Marie is arriving in France to meet her new husband and family. Before she arrives, she has been completely stripped of her old clothes, and clothed in the fashion of France. She is also alone, as she is not allowed to come with anything familiar from home. She steps out of the carriage and is greeted by everyone who is family and members of the court. As she steps out, she hesitates at first but is all smiles. She walks along the path, which is full of people on either side to see and meet her. The only people who are smiling are the little girls. Most of the people here to see Marie have smirks and looks of disapproval on their faces. There are also your standard catty women in the crowd who cannot help but whisper comments to each other about the new woman in the house. It is a very uninviting moment yet Marie smiles, holds her head up and greets everyone with hello.
Marie is wearing a blue gown with a blue hat while everyone around her is wearing white, cream, earth tones, and light primary colors. Her blue stands out in a crowd full people wearing bland colors. The blue seems to be an indication of her mood; sad and nervous to be in a new place all alone. The blue also sets her apart from everyone else, as if to add to her royalty and to have a “notice me” effect.

This scene makes you feel unwelcome and nervous and little bit excited for Marie. She is a young girl sent away to marry a man she has never met. She is expected to bear an heir to the throne and not disappoint her family back home. She is expected to smile and make everyone happy, which she tries to do from the moment she gets to France. She is intimated at first at how unhappy and unwelcoming everyone seems to be to her, but she does her best to do what is expected of her.
The camera does a great job making you feel this way too. When she first steps out of the carriage it is panned out so that you can see her exiting the carriage and presenting herself to these new people. It then cuts to behind her so that you can see everyone who is looking at her. It constantly cuts from a close up capturing her facial expression, to behind her so you can see what she sees. It also cuts away from her from time to time, and captures a whisper or disapproving look in the crowd. When the camera shots bounce around like this, it really allows you to get a sense of what is going on all around her, and helps develop the feeling of nervousness.
The music that is playing during this scene adds to this unwelcoming but exciting feeling. It is a really soft piano melody that sort of fades out as she begins walking through the crowd. As it fades out, the camera cuts away from her so you can see what she is seeing, which is a bunch of unhappy and critical looking faces.
In both The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette, Sofia does an excellent job capturing and creating mood. She does this with camera angles, color and her actors. She seems to have picked the perfect actors to portray her characters. Kirsten Dunst does such a great job playing these angelic, vixens and it makes for intriguing films.
In The Virgin Suicides, Sofia used soft, pure colors such as yellow, white, light blue and pink. These colors make you think of purity and innocence. She also uses grayscale colors during the more intense scenes, which force your mood to sadness. Then she uses light to cast certain shadows or tints on the scene to give it a more seventies-type feel, as well as helping create the mood of the scene.
Sofia uses a lot of close ups in this movie. This seems to be because she wants to create a serious feeling within the viewer. She wants to be sure you see the detail of the actor’s faces and feel their emotion during each situation. She wants you to sympathize with the characters and the challenges and experiences they are facing.
In Marie Antoinette, she uses a lot of bright pink as well as shades of red and blue. These colors symbolize wealth and youth. Marie loved to spend money on dresses, shoes and jewelry. She could care less if she over spent her allowance. She was so impressed with the amount of things she was allowed to have and get whenever she wanted. All of the things she buys are pink, blue, red, white, and extravagant. She always had the best and was only shown the best by all the tailors.
Sofia’s choice of music for this film makes it feel as if this just happened yesterday. She has it take on a modern feel by using music from today. It causes Marie’s actions to become more appealing by giving it a sound you can relate to. She also does this by focusing on the luxuries of her life. There are quite a few different scenes where you see Marie eating something amazing and pink. There are other scenes where you find her looking at the latest fabric brought in especially for her, and the different types of heels she’s had designed. There are also a few scenes where she is either eating with her husband or waking up in the morning, only to have everyone waiting on her hand and foot. She barely gets to hold her own fork. She also sneaks out and has her own mini palace she can retreat to whenever she decides she wants to party. This seems like such an amazing life, to have whatever you want and do whatever you want. Sofia did not seem to focus too much on the end of Marie’s life. She really focused on her extravagant taste and lust for the outside the world. It sort of felt like she was glamorizing the life of Marie Antoinette and how fun it must have been to be a young queen. She did an amazing job with costumes in this movie, which actually won an award.
Although Dunst plays two different characters in each movie, there seems to be some similarities. Being an Austrian Queen of France comes with its challenges just as being a young secluded girl in her teens. Each character is portrayed as young and beautiful with rebellion issues. Dunst’s character Lux wants so badly to be allowed to do anything outside her house so she begins sneaking out, drinking and smoking cigarettes. Her character as a young Queen of France takes advantage of her role by spending lots of money, sneaking out to parties and keeping bad company.
Both of these films were very entertaining to watch and I will continue to watch them. I think Sofia has done a great job in her career as both writer and director and I hope to see more from her in the future.

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