On a drizzly May afternoon in Cannes, France, Sofia Coppola is curled up in a chair in the lounge of a huge hotel, dressed in trousers and a blue-and-white pinstripe shirt, Chanel ballet flats peeking out from beneath her knees, her fingernails painted an on-trend shocking pink.
The nail polish is pretty much the only thing shocking about Coppola. The night before, she attended the Cannes Film Festival premiere of her new film, “The Bling Ring”; she had spent all of this day doing press and was showing signs of fatigue. But she brightened when talk turned to Paris Hilton, who had shown up at the screening along with Coppola and “Bling Ring” star Emma Watson.
“I was excited that she came and that she liked the movie,” said Coppola in her soft, almost sing-song voice. “She’s a nice person. I was surprised when I met her. I thought she’d be very different from her persona, but she was very warm.”
Under normal circumstances, Paris Hilton and Sofia Coppola communing on the red carpet conjures images of the publicity-hungry Hilton eyeing yet another opportunity for free press. But the blonde socialite was actually something of a technical advisor for Coppola on “The Bling Ring,” and even offered up her own house for filming. The movie dramatizes the story of a group of Los Angeles-area teenagers who in 2009 burgled celebrities’ houses after ascertaining from Internet gossip sites that the residents weren’t home — ultimately lifting around $3 million in jewelry, clothes and personal items. One of their victims was Hilton, whose home in “The Bling Ring” is revealed to be a cross between an enormous walk-in closet and an altar to All Things Paris, right down to the glamour shots on the walls and portraiture on the throw pillows.
“She told me she liked it when people laughed when they saw the pictures of her,” Coppola said, betraying not a scintilla of disbelief. “She has a good, playful sense of humor.”
After such mood pieces as “The Virgin Suicides,” “Lost in Translation,” “Marie Antoinette” and “Somewhere,” “The Bling Ring” feels like a departure for Coppola, who throughout her career has steadfastly resisted the tyranny of narrative, instead creating lush, impressionistic odes to atmosphere and emotion. With its ripped-from-the-headlines topicality and crime-and-punishment arc, “The Bling Ring” is far more conventional, even if Coppola approaches the material with her signature love of visual beauty and detailed production design.
Indeed, “The Bling Ring” occasionally recalls “Marie Antoinette” in its depiction of heedless materialism and fetishistic shots of gems, shoes and the coveted stuff of 21st century consumer culture. “But this is pretty excessive,” Coppola insisted. “ ‘Marie Antoinette’ was decadent, but it was beautiful decadence. This is tacky decadence. [In] Paris’s closet, with that many shoes, it gets to the point where it’s just kind of sensory overload.”
There’s another strand of continuity with Coppola’s previous movies in the fact that, in many ways, “The Bling Ring” is about a group of aimless — if amoral — young women, for whom spraying on perfume belonging to Lindsay Lohan (another victim, who at the time of the robberies was facing her own charges of shoplifting) takes on the contours of a transmigration of souls.
“I guess I’m interested in the feminine point of view,” Coppola said, “or things that are particular to girls. . . . I spent time in my 20s like the Scarlett [Johansson] character in ‘Lost in Translation’ where I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, and I’ve definitely gone through periods of transition where I’ve tried to figure it out. But yeah, in this story there’s that aspect of girls trying on other people’s stuff to find themselves.”
The fact that Coppola found herself with such assurance — making a stunning directorial debut at 28 with “The Virgin Suicides,” winning a screenwriting Oscar for “Lost in Translation” — may not have been astonishing but for the fact that her father is Francis Ford Coppola. Having one of the planet’s most famous directors for a dad surely helps open doors, but it could easily stymie creativity and self-confidence. That Sofia, 42, has forged such a singular aesthetic and working style, so different from that of her father, is all the more surprising given her a shy, almost recessive demeanor.
She shows all her movies to her father before she locks the print. “He’ll usually have some ideas, and sometimes I give him ideas. . . . When I start a movie, I always plan a rehearsal period, which is something he always did. I don’t feel like I have [his] voice in my head, but I learned about filmmaking from him.”
On the set, Coppola couldn’t be more different than her father, the very personification of the passionate, irrepressible auteur. Israel Broussard, who plays the lone male member of the gang in “The Bling Ring,” notes that Coppola “is a very, very intelligent woman. She’s very sweet and very kind and also gentle. She’s the quietest person in the world, and I think that’s what makes people pay attention to her a little more.”
There’s a guardedness to Coppola that feels ingrained, after years of being the daughter of a famous man, raked over the hot coals of public contempt for her misbegotten role in his second “Godfather” sequel and suffering the devastating loss of her older brother Gian-Carlo when she was 15. She has admitted that “Lost in Translation” was a fictionalized chronicle of the disintegration of her marriage to filmmaker Spike Jonze; she’s now married to Thomas Mars, singer of the rock band Phoenix, and they have two daughters. As soon as she’s finished doing interviews, she will join them at Mars’s family’s winery, about an hour away. Which, for those keeping score at home, means that both of Sofia Coppola’s families are in the wine business. “I know, I know,” she said almost apologetically, breaking into a smile of prominent white teeth. “And they make rosé. I feel very lucky.”
It’s impossible to disagree. In fact, for a rarified subset of culture watchers, Coppola is their Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, an avatar of serene refinement, personal style and privilege that could easily conjure similar feelings of longing and envy as those that propel “The Bling Ring” along its lurid course. After all, she’s had her own forays into the fashion world, both as a designer (for her label Milk Fed), model (Louis Vuitton) and muse (Marc Jacobs).
Coppola waves off the suggestion that the movie has made her rethink her own role as a purveyor of consumerist obsession. “It was just really fun to indulge this style that’s so different from my own,” she says softly but firmly. “I’m more associated with being understated and [with] good taste, I think, and it’s fun to be really obnoxious.”
Opens Friday in area theaters. Rated R for language, teen drug and alcohol use and some sexual references. 90 minutes.