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Edinburgh International Film Festival: Sofia Coppola on The Bling Ring

The Emma Watson-starring drama is inspired by a true story of celeb-robbing teens

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Edinburgh International Film Festival: Sofia Coppola on The Bling Ring

Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is set to add some glamour to Edinburgh International Film Festival. James Mottram speaks to the director about wealthy teenage burglars, society’s obsession with fame and filming in Paris Hilton’s house

There was a moment at this year’s Cannes Film Festival that felt as if life was imitating art (which was, in turn, imitating life). Just as Sofia Coppola’s new film The Bling Ring was opening the festival’s Un Certain Regard strand, with the 42 year-old director and her young cast trooping up the red carpet, jewellery worth a reported $1.4 million was being heisted from a nearby hotel safe. An elaborate publicity stunt? That would be too much, even for Cannes, but it did mean that bling was a word on everyone’s lips.

Inspired by Vanity Fair's true-life article ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins’, Coppola’s film is a queasy look at celebrity culture as five Los Angeles teenagers tracked their idols and raided their homes, stealing more than $3 million in luxury items. ‘I was trying to understand where they were coming from,’ Coppola notes. ‘I think that they didn’t have a lot of culture in their family life and they were trying to find their way through all this pop culture. I think they’re trying on the identities of these stars that they’re interested in. To me, that was where they were coming from.’

We’re sitting in the Carlton Hotel, in its less-grand-than-it-sounds Movie Stars Lounge - admittedly an ideal locale to discuss Coppola’s on-going interest in celebrity. Her second film, 2003’s Lost In Translation, which won her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, cast Bill Murray as a once-famous actor reduced to making whisky commercials in Tokyo. She followed it with 2006’s period piece Marie Antoinette - the French queen perhaps the biggest celebrity of her day -- before returning with 2010’s Venice’s Golden Lion winner Somewhere, casting Stephen Dorff as an out-of-control actor living in the Chateau Marmont.

For Coppola, however, their celebrity is almost incidental. ‘I think they’re always stories about people in transition and finding their identity and their place in their environment. And I think this one has that element too.’ Like her eerie Air-scored 1999 debut The Virgin Suicides, The Bling Ring features a tight-knit quintet of youngsters, here seen through the eyes of Marc (Israel Broussard) - the only boy in an otherwise all-female gang, led by the domineering Rebecca (Katie Chang) and featuring a career-changing turn by Harry Potter star Emma Watson.

While the real names of the ‘Bling Ring’ have been disguised - the ringleaders all ended up serving jail time - there is a considerable blurring between fiction and reality. Not least with the participation of Paris Hilton, one of the major victims of the gang, after they raided her Hollywood Hills mansion (true fact: she leaves her key under the doormat). Coppola was even allowed to film in Hilton’s real-life gaudy pad. ‘She told me it was upsetting for her to see all those people in her house; I’m sure it was something unpleasant for her, that experience.’

What does give The Bling Ring its burst of energy is just how it feels utterly of its time - a story tailored to teens weened on Facebook and Twitter, with its illusory means of putting wannabes in touch with their idols. ‘I think that’s what’s interesting about the story - it felt so contemporary. Ten years ago it couldn’t have happened,’ says Coppola. So can this obsession with celebs ever stop? ‘I’m curious if it’s going to explode or if there will be a reaction. I wonder if the next generation will react against it. Something’s got to happen.’

Stemming from a legendary filmmaking dynasty, Coppola has been arguably cocooned by celebrity her whole life. Her father Francis made The Godfather and Apocalypse Now; brother Roman directs, her cousins include actors Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage and her ex-husband is Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze. But as she points out, she doesn’t live in LA, the centre of this universe. ‘I don’t really want to live there because it’s so centred around that. I think everything in moderation. I participate in some - I don’t want it to be all of my life.’

Now married to French musician Thomas Mars, with whom she has two daughters, Romy and Cosima, Coppola resides in Paris, but isn’t entirely outside this culture of excess. In 2002, fashion designer Marc Jacobs picked her to be the face of his self-titled fragrance. Six years later, Coppola shot her own commercial for Christian Dior perfume Miss Dior Chérie, a frothy, pastel-coloured Paris-set confection starring model Maryna Linchuk.

So does this mean she’s just as caught up in bling as those she portrays? ‘I appreciate well-made clothes and nice things in life,’ she counters, ‘but I don’t understand the status-symbol brand obsession.’ While the film has already drawn mixed reviews, Coppola says she wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘You can’t think too much about or else you will never try anything,’ she says. ‘I think I’d rather make something that some people love and some people hate than something that’s in the middle.’

The Bling Ring is showing at EIFF, Filmhouse, Sat 22 Jun; Sun 23 Jun. On general release from Fri 5 Jul.

The Bling Ring Official Trailer #2 (2013) - Emma Watson Movie HD

The Bling Ring

  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • US
  • 90 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Sofia Coppola
  • Cast: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson
  • UK release: 5 July 2013

Coppola's caper, based on a true story, follows a group of high school friends who burgle the homes of the rich and famous, spurred by their obsession with celebrity.

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