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About a month after Marie Antoinette opened, Coppola gave birth to Romy, the first of her two daughters with Thomas Mars, frontman of the French band Phoenix, who has contributed music to each of her films. With her new family established in France, she started thinking about where she came from.
"I was living in Paris and I was homesick," she recalls. "I was thinking about L.A., how it seems like our whole pop culture is so interested in celebrity, and how people all know about the Chateau Marmont. There have been iconic L.A. movies that I always loved, and I thought, We haven't had one showing today, this era of L.A."
Somewhere is Coppola's first film set in Los Angeles and her first to deal directly with the emotional consequences of a professional Hollywood life. A personal filmmaker, she has until now chosen stories set in far-off times or places, creating distance between her scripts and her life. In order for her to consider Los Angeles a worthy subject, she would have to leave it.
Drawing on her memories of coming of age and her difficult 20s, Somewhere is a defiantly austere film and Coppola's most challenging. The first image is a three-minute shot of a black Ferrari circling a strip of desert track. The driver is a depressed, withdrawn movie star named Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff). Cue opening credits, which play to a version of Phoenix's "Love Like a Sunset." The song, which helped inspire Coppola's script, is fueled by an electronic buzz that's almost identical to the sound of the engine of Johnny's Italian sports car. Patches of the track serve as a refrain throughout the film, which follows a couple of weeks that Johnny spends living at the Chateau while doing press for a shitty blockbuster and quietly reaching some sort of breakthrough with his preteen daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), who spends a few days with him and temporarily turns his hotel room into a home.
Coppola wanted to make a portrait of Los Angeles today that would serve as a time capsule for future generations, the way American Gigolo and Shampoo do for their respective moments in time. Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon, she says, helped define the nontraditional relationship between Johnny and Cleo: "I always loved the dynamic of a buddy movie between father and daughter." Toby Dammit, Federico Fellini's segment of the omnibus film Spirits of the Dead, spoke to Johnny's depression and desperation in the heightened atmosphere of celebrity.
As for Somewhere's patient, often wordless, observational style? Thank Harris Savides, the great cinematographer who shot the movie (as well as this year's other epic of L.A. angst, Greenberg). Credit Savides also for turning Coppola on to Chantal Akerman's 1975 avant-garde, feminist masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.
"This woman alone in her apartment, these very long takes of her doing mundane things," Coppola says. "It should be boring to watch someone washing their dishes for 10 minutes or whatever, but there's something really fascinating about that. So I talked to Stephen about that, the challenge of just having to be alone and be believable and be real."
"Like, two and a half hours of, literally, a woman in her kitchen cooking breakfast, eating, going to sleep, waking up and doing the same exact thing, in real time," Dorff says of Akerman's experimental tragedy, starring Delphine Seyrig as a stay-at-home mom turned prostitute. "I was kind of scared at first when I watched that 'cause, like, it was driving me crazy, but at the same time, I found it incredibly interesting. I asked Sofia, I said, 'Are we gonna do some of that?' and she's like, 'Well, I do want to experiment with doing some stuff in real time.' And I said, 'OK, cool.' I immediately got it."