ROTTERDAM 2000 REVIEW: Virgin No More, Sofia Coppola Kills in Holland
by Mark Peranson
(indieWIRE/2.4.2000) — American Zoetrope presents a Francis Ford Coppola production of a film
written and directed by Sofia Coppola, with assistance from Roman
Coppola, a role for Robert Schwartzman, and a big thank you to someone
credited as “Spike.” This is part of the brain trust behind “The Virgin
Suicides,” a nuanced and ultimately too sober 70’s period piece
screening in Rotterdam as part of the “Bad Teenage Taste” program
(alongside such contemporary classics as ?Kingpin?
and “Election”). S. Coppola’s credible debut shows that her talent lies
behind the camera; but she’s still got some ways to go to top the other
members of America’s first family of filmmaking.
Based on Jeffrey Eugenides‘s concise, serio-comic novel about five
blossoming, drop-dead gorgeous sisters who, in fact, drop dead, the film
is narrated as a not-so 20/20 reminiscence. The Lisbon daughters,
ranging in age from 13 to 17, are obscure objects of desire for all the
neighborhood lads in 1975 (with the ringleader being played as
proficient as usual by Kirsten Dunst). The girls’ parental
overprotection backfires when the youngest, Cecilia (Sarah Polley
look-alike Hanna Hall) first slashes her wrists, then leaps from a
second story window and impales herself on a fence (not white picket) in
their front yard. And the automatic sprinkler begins to spin.
Though the humor rarely gets this black, it’s clear Coppola has
equilibrium in mind. While a modicum of comic relief is to be tolerated,
the subject of teen suicide is to be taken seriously. She proceeds in an
intentionally frustrating manner, refusing to provide motivations for
Cecilia’s death — her journal only contains banalities about an elm
tree marked for death — nor the other suicides that follow.
What is depicted, however, is an intriguing portrayal of male-female
relations during puberty, at a time when girls mature faster than boys
and the boys are pretty much idiots. As the narrator (Giovanni Ribisi)
explains, “We know they knew everything about us, and we couldn’t fathom
them at all.” This comes across most clear in the scenes when boys and
girls face-off in the same space, as in an early party scene at the
Lisbons’ that provides the dynamic occasion for
Cecilia’s second floor plunge and a keen look at the first contact
between Lux (Dunst) and suburban Lothario Trip Fontaine (Josh Harnett).