In Sofia Coppola – Forever Young, a visceral, delicate foreword from Alice Rohrwacher sets the tone for a book brimming with love and attention to detail. The author, Hannah Strong (also Digital Editor at Little White Lies), writes with an adoration and honesty that astutely pinpoints all those hard-to-define qualities that make the films of Sofia Coppola so wonderful.
A personal essay opens the compendium and etches out the concurrent themes of the Lost in Translation director’s work and Strong’s own life. The essay captures how one can become so enamoured by an artist’s work and beautifully outlines how the author and filmmaker are tethered in a way only the movies can provide.
Although the two have never met Strong ponders that, despite this, the relationship and importance of the director is second to none: a feeling most cinephiles can whole-heartedly relate to. This seems appropriate given Coppola herself is one of film’s most potent capturers of longing, distance, and the unseen. Among the many masterfully curated quotes, Strong included Kirsten Dunst’s (Coppola’s ubiquitous muse) summation of Marie Antoinette, where she said the film was “a history of feelings rather than a history of facts”. Coppola often leans towards unseen ambiguity and away from outright truths, portraying the intricacies of emotion and exploring the in-between moments of life.
From words on On the Rocks’ Laura Keane (Rashida Jones) caught between recent motherhood and writer’s block, to Charlotte’s (Scarlett Johansson) melancholic displacement in Lost in Translation, this Dunst quote marinates in the mind whilst reading Strong’s essays on every film in Coppola’s oeuvre. Said writings have been thoughtfully grouped into chapters, from ‘Innocence & Violence’ to ‘Love & Loneliness’.
The author notes how the director’s work was often fuelled by a desire to represent girls and female adolescence: “the cusp between girlhood and womanhood” as Strong writes. Coppola’s ability to capture the isolating idiosyncrasies of teenage angst is matched by the author’s aptitude at conveying how important this ability was to her as a teen, and still now as an adult. In Strong’s remarkable introduction she summates: “the cinema of Sofia Coppola is the cinema of growing up.”
Whilst an evidently enormous amount of affection is on display, common censure of the director’s work are also dissected. It’s no surprise that Strong mentions the nepotism cries that have dogged Coppola’s career (and frankly become tiresome), but the author also eloquently brings light to the more important criticisms of Coppola’s work too. The erasure of a Black character in The Beguiled, and racist readings of the portrayal of Japan in Lost in Translation, are both valued and presented articulately.
Each chapter concludes with a list of inspirations to accompany the essays which is a fitting ode to the directorial queen of pop culture references. Similarly, there are informative segments outlining Sofia’s music videos, short films, and commercial work. There’s also a dedicated section containing original interviews with frequent Coppola collaborators, including the likes of Kirsten Dunst and film editor Sarah Flack, where they touch on both their personal and professional relationships with the great artist.
It’s rare to find a book on an individual that so expertly defines who they are and what they create. Whether it’s portrayals of celebrity excess in The Bling Ring, or the screwball antics of On the Rocks, Hannah Strong delves into every sinew of Coppola’s work, and indeed her personal life and childhood.
Packed full of thoroughly researched insight and contained in a gorgeous vessel, it so lovingly reminds one how artists can be the guiding light in a world full of uncertainty and curveballs.
Sofia Coppola – Forever Young by Hannah Strong (Abrams, £35) out now here.