F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 21, 2013)

21 06 2013

As I’ve said, I don’t like Sofia Coppola movies.  And I think I liked “The Virgin Suicides” not because of her but in spite of her.  Perhaps because the films feels nothing like the rest of her work it’s my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

I’m certainly glad I held out on watching the film until I completed Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, the source text for the film.  “The Virgin Suicides” is a richly observed tale of five sisters who each take their own lives over the course of a single year.  But it’s not from their point of view; it’s told from the perspective of their neighbors, observing their lives from a cool distance.  Specifically, it’s from the point of view of some young boys in the neighborhood who do not just watch – they peer, gaze, and spy.

Suicide becomes an excellent metaphor for the breakdown of community in modern America, a disease that grows when we place each other under a microscope.  It’s what happens when we treat the people in our lives as objects of fascination, not people.  Coppola bottles up this frustration with the suburban social dynamic and regurgitates it on screen with Eugenides’ vision totally intact.

She ultimately cannot compete with all the layers and detail of a novel, but film has never been a medium easily able to indulge in tangents and side stories.  Coppola aims to get at the feeling and mood of “The Virgin Suicides,” and she succeeds at communicating that eerie melancholy.  While we get to know the tragedy of the Lisbon sisters, we never really know anybody.  To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, we are both within and without of the story.

It turns out Sofia Coppola is actually a great narrative filmmaker, provided that narrative originally belonged to someone else.  Though “The Bling Ring” is adapted from a magazine article, so we will see if the streak continues.  But even if it doesn’t, “The Virgin Suicides” captures the improbable lightning of a novel in a succinct and memorable bottle of a film.