Without question, Sofia Coppola is a talented director. Her vision and influence pervades every film she touches. Even when those films are as decidedly blasé as Somewhere or The Bling Ring. And there is no mistaking her unique flair for cinematography and music choice. Indeed, the surefire way to know you’re watching a Sofia Coppola movie–apart from whether or not Kirsten Dunst is in it–is if it feels like you’ve seen fifteen music videos back to back and you feel slightly like you’ve been eye fucked. She is singular, an auteur of the utmost caliber and in her own right. And with The Beguiled, we’re sure to see her elevation into a new, more advanced phase of her career. And it’s one that the Cannes Film Festival has now momentously acknowledged in granting her the award for Best Director–somehow only the second time it’s ever been given to a woman. And the first female to win the same distinction was Yuliya Solntseva, over fifty years ago, in 1961, with the film Chronicling of Flaming Years.
This is also an especial coup of validation for Coppola considering her history with the festival. Marie Antoinette, famously booed at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, was not really well-received by anyone at the time of its release. But the passage of the years has been kind to its legacy, vindicating Coppola for her attention to detail and tongue-in-cheek treatment of one of the most polarizing royals in history, French or otherwise. In accepting the award, Coppola saw fit to pay respect to another female titan of the festival, Jane Campion–the only woman ever to have won a Palme d’Or. And here is where it bears noting the similarities between someone like Campion and Coppola in terms of them launching from the stepping stones it took to get them to their current career points: the financial means and the familial status. One never seeming to exist without the other. And where Coppola is concerned, launching into the film industry is, without a doubt, much easier when your father is, well, the director of The Godfather. At least Nicolas Cage had enough of the desire to make it on his own to distance himself from the Coppola name.
Yes, it’s not necessarily true that someone from a good family with money and a legacy is going to do well (just look at the Trump descendants), but, come on, you know it certainly doesn’t hurt. Advantages and all, Sofia proved herself, made it known she was a woman of merit. But herein lies the next element of taint where her win for Best Director at Cannes comes in: The Beguiled is simply a remake. As most of her films tend to be adaptations of something, what would have made this achievement slightly sweeter is if it had been for an original script. Sure, this is all very nit-picky and maybe even petty–not celebratory of women. But one would have liked for this important win to be, shall we say, completely ironclad–irreproachable. To put it in other terms, a director like, say, Martin Scorsese came from an Italian American family too–one that worked in the Garment District and let him find his love of film on his own. The two films he’s won a Palme d’Or for were for original stories: Taxi Driver and After Hours.
No matter though. In a country where they won’t let Hillary be president, it’s nice to know that at least some other country will let Sofia Coppola be Best Director.