Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1364, (12 - 18 October 2017)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1364, (12 - 18 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Sofia still dazzles

Sophia Loren
Sophia Loren

It may seem to us that the path is still long from now to Oscar night, but not in Hollywood. 

Once a mere three-month affair, Prize Season has become a year-long project heavy with expectations and panic.

Unless your film has already been released during the summer season or earlier, Oscar rules require public release before year’s end. 

It is zero hour for filmmakers who hope to be contenders. There is often re-shooting of scenes, dubbing, editing, musical scores, advertising and above all attempting to appeal to the jurors who are as divided as is America today.

So many dreams scattered around tinsel-town, a town built on dreams — fulfilled and shattered. The work is hard, but it is hard work that makes dreams come true. The intense frenzy is almost palpable and yet bookmakers are already taking bets on who will take home the golden statuette.

High-grossing movies held priority among academy voters, but this has stopped since 2003: Lord of the Rings — The Return of the King. The Academy of Motion Pictures now favours hardly known or totally unknown films, forgotten by the public, even if the little golden fellow still stands, dusty and neglected on the mantelpiece.

We know who won in Gone with the Wind, but who were last year’s winners? 

This coming season will mark the 90th anniversary of the Oscars, the oldest and most prestigious tribute in film-land. There will be the usual hoopla of glimmer and glamour, lavish costumes and bedazzling jewellery, but the Best Picture will soon be history.

One of the early indicators for an Oscar win is the Cannes’ Film Festival award, second in prestige to Oscar, with its European sophistication, international appeal and knowledgeable jurors.

When Cannes anointed Sofia as Best Director for her film, The Beguiled, filmdom’s eyes and ears popped. She was the second woman director to win in 56 years, since Russian director Yuliya Solntseva won for The Chronicle of Flaming Years in 1961.

We apologise that the Sofia in our title is not the legendary beauty goddess, Sophia Loren, but our Sofia is a filmmaker of value in her own right. Hers is a film high on the bookmakers’ lists worth reviewing. It also won a Cannes prize that is a veritable honour. It stars Nicole Kidman whom we have missed in recent years, but we must confess the driving force is the appearance of distinguished British actor Colin Firth, who seduced the whole female population as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and continues to charm with his amazing talent and infusion of pride, humility, sense and sensibility winning an Oscar for Best Actor in The King’s Speech in 2011.

No offence, we hope Sofia Carmina Coppola will also dazzle. Born to film royalty in 1971, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, her aunt is Talia Shire and her cousin, Nicolas Cage. 

As an infant she was pushed on the screen by her father and consequently appeared in 24 forgotten films. Her serious attempt in Godfather 3 in 1990 earned her the Razzie (Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst performances), she promptly decided to put her energies elsewhere.

An art student, writer/director/ producer/cinematographer Sofia Coppola has only made seven feature films, amongst a good deal of documentaries, TV, etc. Not all the films broke box-office records, but all won critics’ accolades for her choice of subjects, photography, artistry and visual beauty.

It was her second film Lost in Translation, which won her an Oscar for Best Scriptwriting, plus 22 other awards, international attention and high revenues. 

Film number seven, The Beguiled, is a remake of a Clint Eastwood film by the same name, based on the book by Thomas Cullinan. 

She swore never to do a remake but something struck her as she imagined another angle by softening the edges to the macho male character and solicit a certain warmth from this dark and gloomy Civil War victim. The Union soldier is found just outside the gate of a boarding school for women, run by Mrs Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman).

He is wounded and sick — but he is the enemy. Do they or don’t they take him in? The answer is obvious. Not only do they give him shelter and care, they all fall for him, even Mrs Farnsworth. 

The Civil War is very much in the fray, dividing Americans much as they are divided today.

The photography by Philippe Le Sourd is more than exquisite. He plays with candlelight effects, emphasising the Gothic theme Sofia masterfully draws.

The story was ripe for retelling during these troubled times. Sofia’s sensibility eliminated a major black character, a slave, in order to avoid contention, yet she was still criticised for excising such a character. Her reasons were to avoid the stereotype, the bad English, the racist image provocative and offensive during these rabble-rousing times. 

Sofia is known for her visual aesthetics as she tries to transport the viewer into a visual dream with her camera movement and artistic touches. Her primary focus as auteur/ director is man’s abuse of women in any society. Her Union officer though under her control is cunning, obsequious and soon begins the business of seduction.

Projecting the dire times of American men at war, repressed Southern Belles in complete isolation, and Colin Firth in their midst, why they would all naturally fall head over heels — and they all do.

“Cherchez la femme” (Find the woman)

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) 

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