The penultimate episode of CINEOPOLIS Season One sets its sights on the films of Sofia Coppola, in an episode that features an interview with TIME magazine film critic Stephanie Zacharek.
It’s unfair — and, frankly, a bit preposterous — to say Sofia Coppola is a divise filmmaker. But since the premiere of her first feature, The Virgin Suicides, in 1999, Coppola has had all sorts of criticism thrown at her to diminish her accomplishments and place in Hollywood: She’s only successful because her dad is Francis Ford Coppola. She only makes films about rich people. Her films are thin and unserious. And if they work it’s only because Francis edited them. On and on goes the tedious nonsense meant to undercut a female director with a singular voice and point of view. And anyone who has actually watched her films — actually watched them, with open eyes and an open mind — knows that a Sofia Coppola film tends to defy expectations. Sure Lost in Translation (2003) and Marie Antoinette (2006) and Somewhere (2010) have rich people at their centers, but they’re not about rich people. Rather, the focus is on their detachment from the world and culture around them. (And so what if they’re rich?)
Stephanie Zacharek has been one of Coppola’s biggest champions — and defenders — since the release of The Virgin Suicides. Currently the film critic at TIME, Zacharek has written for the Village Voice and Salon and, in 2015, was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism. She has written often, and eloquently, about Coppola and her films, building a difficult-to-dispute case for the director and her place in the conversation about American filmmaking. Zacharek’s keenly observed profile of Coppola, published by TIME in 2017 ahead of the release of The Beguiled, is as good an introduction to the filmmaker you can find. But her reviews are similarly illuminating — especially for how they expand our view on Coppola’s work. “Both Bob and Charlotte are strangers in a strange land, the strange land not being Japan, but their own skins,” Zacharek wrote about Lost in Translation for Salon in 2003. “A strong sense of place is a necessity in a movie about dislocation: The city knows for sure who it is; it's the people moving through it who are riddled with doubt and uncertainty.”
It’s that sense of place in Coppola’s films that led Dante to speak with Zacharek about the director. But like all conversations about Sofia Coppola, it proved elusive to get a firm grasp on the way Coppola uses places in her work. Compared to one of the more macho directors championed by film critics, Coppola’s placemaking is rarely showy (even when the place is as maximalist as Versailles) and often evanescent, drifting into your consciousness in such a way that you find yourself dwelling on a hotel bar or apartment or makeup room long after the credits roll. It’s a wondrous trick that only someone who spent a lifetime around films and filmmakers can pull off. “You can become a good enough filmmaker by watching,” Zacharek wrote in her 2017 TIME piece. “But you can’t become a great one without observing.”
This week, Dante and Zacharek make some observations of their own about Sofia Coppola.