Sofia Coppola is arguably one of the best known female names in directing. Greeted with some scepticism initially due to her parentage, (her Father being Francis Ford Coppola, the internationally renowned director of the infamous ‘Godfather’ trilogy) Sofia, now having directed five films, has made her name as an ‘assured and imaginative’ filmmaker in her own right, with a style which stands out not only from her Father’s, but also other directors, irrespective of gender. (ny times)
**To include piece here on female filmmakers struggling to get into the industry from separate source; financial problems and lack of trust for women from producers**
For Sofia Coppola though, the film industry existed around her; ‘the family business’ (Telegraph interview) Coppola describes her earliest memories as being on the set of Apocolypse Now, and spent a great deal of time assisting her brother Roman Coppola on his sets (albeit for music videos and advertisements as opposed to feature films). (Telegraph int)
Perhaps this early reluctance to look at Sofia Coppola without reference to her father is somewhat justifiable then; where other female directors and scriptwriters may struggle to gain the trust of producers and secure funding, there is an understandable unrest at the idea that perhaps Coppola’s single credential which allowed her access to such things was her birthright or “friends in high places”. But equally, the family into which she was born serves as ample cause to criticise Coppola for neither her content nor her talent, both of which are undeniably strong.
In terms of both their content and stylistic approach, Coppola self proclaims that her work focuses on an overall feel for ‘characters and atmosphere’ (telegraph int) as opposed to weighty dialogue. Her approach to constructing the mood of her scenes comes from observation of ‘strange funny telling little details’ imbued into every character, with the overall sensuality becoming a key element of the viewing process which Coppola constructs in order to directly engage her audience, allowing them to feel, rather than receive a passive experience. (Senses of cinema)
The key criticism Coppola suffers concerns the priority given to aesthetics, and especially the notion that her films are made ‘not only for women but are imbued with what some may call a ‘girly aesthetic’’. There is also some suggestion that Coppola’s work, in order to be fully appreciated requires a certain level of ‘allegiance’ to the female point of view which she is again criticised for prioritising.
A questionable cause for concern. Being that Coppola is, herself, experiencing the world from a female point of view, why should her films be expected to offer anything besides? Emily Nussbaum offers an insight. Nussbaum points to the unexposed and little questioned hierarchy which exists within the film industry which for reasons unbeknownst degrades anything which appears to be overtly feminine as being inferior. Other elements said to suffer at being presumed as such include sexually explicit films, inferior to violent, and films which are pleasurable to view rather than evoking negative emotion. (the newyorker via junkee.com)
Specifically in reference to Coppola, this degradation seems particularly unjustified. The prominence of the aesthetic in Coppola’s often serves as a veil which provides a pastel hued veil over what in actuality is a purified and central question around a fact of life.
In the majority of her work this can be found to be true, but in none more so than The Virgin Suicides.