The last time Sofia Coppola premiered a film in Cannes, the daughter of Hollywood royalty kicked up some latent French revolutionary zeal with Marie Antoinette. Her post-modernist English-language re-telling of one of the most pivotal figures in France's history won some praise but also audible boos. Cut to seven years later, and Coppola is back with The Bling Ring, turning the focus squarely on Hollywood and the seemingly insatiable appetite for celebrity culture that oozes out of the city onto virtually every reality show, tabloid and Twitter account there is.
What eventually morphed into Coppola's fifth feature had its roots in a Vanity Fair feature titled The Suspects Wore Louboutins, which the writer/director read on a flight. The article was about a group of celebrity and fashion-obsessed kids from nearby San Fernando Valley who sought a quick path to the life they craved by burglarizing celebrity homes, including those of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom.
"I thought: This sounds like a movie. I'm sure it's already being made," said Coppola in Cannes Thursday. "It was so contemporary and I thought it said so much about our culture today. There's something about these kids living over the hill in suburbia and who wanted to be a part of it."
Apropos to the flavor of the feature, the film stars a mixture of celebrity names, including Emma Watson and Leslie Mann, and relative newcomers Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga and Claire Julien.
"I took a year of meeting young actors before putting together this group. Casting directors suggested I meet Emma," said Coppola in Cannes. "I didn't want them to be like a spoof or like cartoon characters, and I wanted real kids who were of the same age. For Emma, it's really interesting to see someone like her transform in a way we haven't seen before."
The cast joined Coppola for the official Bling Ring World Premiere, where mobs of accredited festival-goers waited under the threat of more rain to get in. Not surprisingly given her pedigree, Coppola is a long time presence at the festival, even before she began showing her own films here. She took a different route with her previous film, Somewhere, which won the coveted Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival last September.
Emma Watson in a scene from The Bling Ring
So far, The Bling Ring has received mixed reviews in Cannes, though the audience last night gave the filmmaker and cast polite applause as the credits rolled. While many stood up, it was hard to tell if that was out of pure enthusiasm or, fittingly, as a means to snap a picture.
"I'm always excited to come to Cannes to show my film," quipped Coppola. "I've come here since I was a kid and am happy to show a film to an international audience and somehow The Bling Ring is very appropriate to show here."
Emma Watson, who shot to fame via the Harry Potter movies, was clearly carrying the star-wattage when introduced ahead of the screening along with Coppola. Earlier ,she commented on working with the Oscar-winning filmmaker and talked about immersing herself into the cult of celebrity—even as a celebrity herself—in preparing for the role, citing reality shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians as a barometer for the cult of fame today.
"I think there are celebrities who create a brand and a business and create a job or niche out of others who are interested in their lives, and there are others who don't," said Watson. "Technology is playing its part because culture is being saturated with these images… If you look at these shots, they look like comic strips."
Huge swaths of younger generations cannot recall a time when such a connection and sense of intimacy did not exist through social media. Israel Bourssard, who plays the most sympathetic character in the film, Marc, perhaps described best the temptation felt by the real members of the so-called "Bling Ring."
"I think every generation has its problems and one of the challenges is social media," he explained. "They can almost touch these celebrities and they just took it to the next level."
The Bling Ring opens Stateside on June 14. Don't miss our free Summer Talk with Sofia Coppola on June 10!