I never understood why people liked Sofia Coppola’s movies. I’ve seen a lot of her films but for one reason or the other I had failed to see her most iconic one, her opera prima, “Virgin Suicides”.
What I usually don’t like about her movies is that they tend to be boring movies about how boring it is to be rich, with leading characters that are passive and whose intentions, passions and motivations remain a mystery even to us. This movie is different, it not only touches on something deeper, but it is this passiveness and mystery that makes it more poignant and unbearably touching.
It poses the question “Why would teenage girls take their own lives?” but doesn’t really answer it directly. The main characters are the Lisbon sisters: five virginal sisters whose overprotective parents trap inside their own house. We see the movie not trough her eyes but through those of neighbourhood boys who start obsessing with them. Boys who can’t pin them down themselves.
This is a slow movie that relies on accumulation, it is a story that could only be said trough film, no other medium can be so subtle that it relies on the viewers looking not at what’s pointed out, but at what’s happening in the background.
Opening with a red notice being placed in a tree, not with tape, but with the violent pierce of a nail, the only red in an otherwise pastel palette. The omen that even the title pronounces: the ending is not important, we know how this will end, it is the unfolding of the events that is important. Said tree has a disease, “brought from Europe by the bugs”, they pour plaster into it trough a hole, Cecilia touches the plaster and an imprint of her little hand stays there longer than her. After Cecilia’s suicide, a green pamphlet is distributed in their school, a voice over says that t is green because it is lively color, but not too lively, and it is certainly better than red. Later on, the sisters try to avoid the tree from being cut down by “risking their own lives”, the man in charge of this says that will only make the rest of the trees sick, but he remains helpless towards the girls stubbornness and we soon see all of the other trees with red notices. The last time we see the house, the tree has been cut-down: We never see how this happens, we only see the after-math, the same way we only see the death girls.
Very early in the film the younger sister, Cecelia, tries to take her life away, she fails and when questioned by the doctor about how many troubles may a young girl have to decide to take her life, she answers “you’ve obviously never been a 13 year old girl”.
In our class, David Dietcher recently mentioned how in her movies, you always get to see Sophia Coppola’s extravagant and removed life. That is in-your-face obvious when an ignored wife of an image-maker finds herself alone in a foreign country or when the child of a famous person in the film business has a complicated life with her dad who never manages to really be there for her but takes her to luxurious trips. In The Virgin Suicides it is not as evident: to be a tormented thirteen year old is not a privilege we all have, you can only worry about existentialism when existing is very easy.
As a small parenthesis I’d like to talk about Federico Fellini and his unapologetic portrayal of himself. About how he even made 8 ½ about how he can’t help himself from putting his life into his films. I also think about posing: it has always been very funny to me that every time you see a character that was obviously him, it was either Marcelo Mastroiani, or a Marcello Mastroiani type. Sophia Coppola goes for skinny, silent, mysterious and ethereal beautiful blondes.
It was a pleasant surprise to see that this movie, although not perfect, shows more passion and depth than the rest of her career. I don’t want to be that they-were-better-in-the-ep person but there is something that Coppola lost along the way of making her movies more high-end, a brilliance and innocence that she hasn’t been able to repeat in any of her following films.