An interview with Sofia Coppola

Published:  01:19 AM, 08 July 2017 Last Update: 01:37 AM, 08 July 2017

Second female director to win at Cannes film festival

Second female director to win at Cannes film festival

Sofia Coppola is an American screenwriter, director, producer and actress. She is the daughter of director, producer and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola. In 2017, Coppola directed 'The Beguiled', a remake of the 1971 Western film of the same name. The film premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where Coppola became the second woman (and the first American woman) in the festival's history to win the Best Director award. The Beguiled is a thriller from acclaimed writer/director Sofia Coppola. The story unfolds during the Civil War, at a Southern girls' boarding school; its sheltered young women take in an injured enemy soldier and, as they provide refuge and tend to his wounds, the house is taken over with sexual tension and dangerous rivalries. Eventually, taboos are broken in an unexpected turn of events.

You said you wanted to make personal films, what's personal for you in The Beguiled? With each film, I only realise it later. I incorporate things I've seen, people I know. But I have always been intrigued by the interactions between women, and I have seen how these can sometimes change when a man was present.

In The Beguiled, you deal again with the theme of the community, or the collective, of women, which is transformed, evolves? In Virgin Suicides, it is a community of sisters; In Marie Antoinette, there is the court which is a universe in itself; And in The Bling Ring, there is a group that is breaking the law.

Yes, I have always liked to observe the dynamics of groups, and groups of women in particular. I feel that among women, the mechanisms that emerge are less aggressive, more subtle, when in men, they are more obvious. This story attracted me because she speaks of a group of women. It reminded me a bit of Virgin Suicides, with these cut girls off from the world. But also because I have never done film on women of different ages, at different stages of their lives, and how they interact. In this story, each has a different relationship with the present man.

There are four age groups represented: Martha, Edwina, Alicia and the four girls. Each one of them has a different relationship with McBurney. When and how did you discover the novel by Omas Cullinan, The Beguiled? My friend, the set designer Anne Ross, first spoke to me about the The Beguiled (Don Siegel, 1971), which I had never seen before, knowing his notoriety. I looked at it and the story did not leave my mind, its strangeness, the unexpected turn of events. I never imagined doing a remake, but the fim sharpened my curiosity and I obtained the book from which it was adapted.

I thought, what if I told this story from the point of view of women? My film would be a reinterpretation. The premises of this story are full of potential because the power relations between men and women are universal. There is always a latent mystery between men and women: "Oh, but why did he say that?" (Laughs)

Have you considered changing the frame of the story?
Some people said to me, "You could change places or times." But I was fascinated by this period of history, in the South, by the way women were brought up there in their only relationship to men. They had to be refined, seductive, good housewives. Their role was defined exclusively by their relationsip to them - until they went to war. How did the women lived, left to themselves, to survive on their own?

In your film, what did you choose to put forward, or on the contrary, to withdraw, in relation to the novel? if the story has an extreme side, I wanted to emphasise the realism and the human dimension. In the book, the soldier is Irish. When I met Colin Farrell and heard his accent, I thought it would be great to keep it as it is and to make McBurney even more exotic for these women. We also allude to the fact that he is a mercenary, paid to take the place of another man (as a soldier of the Union). But I wanted him to be charming, that he did not immediately appear as a threat. In the eyes of these women, there is a general "I want to believe". With Colin, it's undeniable.

In fact, by watching them on the screen with him, we feel like… not exactly hope, but something of the order of: maybe it will not turn so bad and won't be a disastrous ending. These women need hope, especially the character of Edwina, interpreted by Kirsten Dunst. For McBurney, it's paradise, all these women who take care of him, make themselves beautiful for him. These kind of charming men who we probably should not know about, even if we feel so crazy … I feel like it is talking to everyone, that we all knew one.

Have you enjoyed developing the thriller side of the plot?
It reminded me of Misery (Rob Reiner, 1990), in which the man is both invited and prisoner. I saw the film when it came out, and he trotted in my head. But it was not easy, it's a new genre for me, in which I'm not very comfortable. I folded it in my own way. I had to force the stroke a little, I am more restrained than usual. It was amusing to combine intrigue and magnitude that poetic decor, it was a first for me! (Laughs)

Visually, what were your sources of inspiration?
It is always a very heterogeneous mixture. We looked at portraits from the Civil War, but also photos of William Eggleston of young women among them - from the 70s - TESS (Roman Polanski, 1979) and films of Alfred Hitchcock for their suspense.

In what way was Nicole Kidman best suited to play Mademoiselle Martha the way you had imagined this character?
I love the work of Nicole, especially when she plays characters a little twisted as in Ready to All (Gus Van Sant, 1995). I always wanted to work with her. When I was writing the script, I imagined her in the role, which helped me. I knew she would bring a lot to Mademoiselle Martha's character, including humour and emotions. Nicole interprets it with such authority that it leaves no doubt about who commands.

In fact, in some scenes between her and McBurney, it's a bit like Mademoiselle Martha was a general and he, a simple soldier. Yes, but I wanted to avoid the terrifying school director cliché. All these women are beauties of the South, even if their hour of glory has passed and the time of receptions is gone. Today, its daily reality is to ensure the protection of thesegirls, she must be strong in the face of adversity.

You find Kirsten Dunst for the third time (after Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette), and for the third time it is a film whose history takes place in the past. I did not think about it. That is true. Apart from the small role she plays in The Bling Ring. It's a simple appearance, it does not count. I enjoy working with her, I wanted to collaborate on a new project.

What makes it the ideal candidate for films taking place in past eras, in di erent regions of the world? Kirsten seems to come from another era. That does not mean she can not play contemporary characters, but she is very credible in a costume film. In The Beguiled, I wanted her to interpret Edwina, the vulnerable schoolmistress, because it does not resemble her. Her character is fragile and inhibited, nothing to do with Kirsten. It is the same thing for Elle Fanning who plays a "naughty girl" whereas she is an adorable girl, kind and generous. I find it exciting, I like to see actresses in roles where they are not expected.

You emphasized their attachment to the screen by showing them sometimes in the same bed. Yes, we said that far from their family, they would share the same room and that sometimes one of them would slip into another's bed, because we are afraid in this big house. They are children who cling to each other.

Have you encouraged their rapprochement?
Yes, we had a whole period of rehearsals. They took lessons in dance, decency, sewing, as the girls did at that time. And these joint activities have fostered their ties. During the filming, especially at Madewood, they spent time together, and they became friends. For Halloween, they all went out together in the city where we were. I think that small sets like ours, in natural settings and with a small team, promote camaraderie. It's like a summer camp, because you do not find your normal life every night.

While filming in Madewood, we slept at the Hampton Inn and were hanging around in the lobby in their pajamas. For the indoor scenes in New Orleans, there was a long table on the covered terrace of the house where we often met. There or in the garden. A gentle atmosphere prevailed.

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