Over the past six years, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sofia Coppola has presented moviegoers with a trio of vastly different movies connected by a single thematic thread: they all feature bright, beautiful, young female characters trying to find and express themselves while trapped in circumstances that are seemingly beyond their control.
With her first feature-length film, the 2000 screen adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, “The Virgin Suicides,” Coppola expertly captures the distress of five teen-age sisters who resort to drastic measures when their well-meaning, but overprotective parents make life unbearable in an affluent, 1970s Michigan suburb.
“Lost in Translation,” Coppola’s sophomore effort, was one of the best reviewed films of 2003 and earned her an Oscar for best original screenplay. Part spot-on examination of loneliness, part hilarious fish-out-of-water tale, “Lost” is the contemporary story of a young woman who, feeling abandoned during a trip to Tokyo where her photographer husband is working, finds an unexpected connection with a fellow American who feels equally adrift.
Although it might not appear such at first glance, Coppola’s third movie, “Marie Antoinette,” fits quite nicely as a companion piece to her previous works.
A highly stylized film set in 18th-century France and featuring a vibrant color palette and a 1980s punk-rock soundtrack, “Marie Antoinette” is not so much a history lesson as it is the study of a 14-year-old Austrian princess trying to cope with leaving home for a lavish, foreign court; being forced to marry a man she doesn’t know and who seems more interested in his food than her; and having to live up to the expectations of a nation that views her as an outsider.
While the daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and Irish-American author Eleanor Coppola acknowledges that all three of her distinctive movies are linked in a way because they focus on lonely heroines, she also says she thinks she has accomplished what she set out to do in telling these women’s stories and confides she is now ready to explore new territory.
“After making ‘Marie Antoinette,’ I see that there is a connection between them and I feel like this kind of is the next part after where the girl in ‘Lost in Translation’ leaves off-kind of on the edge of growing up and the story is her evolution from a kid into a woman,” the 35-year-old writer-director told the Irish Echo.
So, does that mean Coppola plans to move on from this type of material even though she handles it so well?
“I think so. But who knows?” she wondered aloud. “Some people just keep making the same movie over and over again. But I feel like this is the final chapter of something I was looking at and I feel like now going in a different direction. I don’t know. I’m not sure (what direction) yet.”
Born in New York and raised in Northern California, Sofia Carmina Coppola is the granddaughter of late composer Carmine Coppola, niece of visual effects expert Bill Neil and actress Talia Shire and cousin of actor Nicolas Cage.
Coppola began her career acting in some of her dad’s films in the 1980s. After appearing in “The Outsiders,” “Rumble Fish,” “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “The Cotton Club,” her critically mauled portrayal of Michael Corleone’s daughter in “The Godfather: Part III” in 1990 stalled her acting career and she has only appeared in a handful of movies since, choosing instead to focus her efforts behind the camera in the late 1990s to much greater success.
Divorced from “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich” director Spike Jonze, her husband of for four years, Coppola is seven months pregnant with her first child by boyfriend Thomas Mars of the band Phoenix.
The biggest challenge
While the human aspects of her latest screen project may be familiar terrain for Coppola, helming a production the sheer size of “Marie Antoinette” most definitely was not.
“It’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on,” she remarked, “just to shoot on that scale with that many extras and costumes and horses.”
Coppola says she was inspired to make a film about the queen after reading “Marie Antoinette: The Journey,” Antonia Fraser’s biography, which would eventually serve as the basis for Coppola’s screenplay.
“I was struck by the elements that you can relate to nowadays,” she said. “Although the setting looks and seems so different, my approach was to make sort of an impressionistic portrait of what it might have been like and more what it would feel like than doing a documentary or a historical recreation. It’s still set in the 18th Century, but I tried to get the emotional and sensory aspect of what it could have been like.”
The filmmaker says she was also determined to debunk some of the legends surrounding the long-dead monarch and style icon.
“It was so interesting to learn about this real person that was so different from the myths and clich