If you’d ever wondered what art cinema giant Michelangelo Antonioni would have made of the Perez Hilton generation, then your search has ended. The Italian auteur specialised in reflecting a desperate emptiness in modern life, turning his gaze on the complacent bourgeois lifestyles of the 50’s and 60’s. Cut to the present day and Sofia Coppola stakes her claim as a possible heir to Antonioni’s illustrious throne. The Bling Ring, her 5th feature, carries on her run of films exploring our obsession with celebrity and a general ennui lingering in the Hills.
Strangely, Antonioni’s films have a distinct kinship with the reality TV that stumbled vacantly across our screens in the 00’s. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s coiffured, mannequin-like appearances and banal, empty chat could easily fit into the upper class emptiness of L’Avventura or L’Eclisse. The mindless, rabid obsession with glamour comes to the fore in Blow Up, about a fashion photographer in 60’s London. While Coppola’s film is focusing on a distinct subculture, there is a lineage here which anticipates the craze. The Bling Ring takes its title from a real life set of LA brats, who stole into the news by gatecrashing a number of celebrity mansions and getting away with hordes of bling.
Led by the seemingly sweet Rebecca (Katie Chang), the group of rich kids cotton onto the fact that certain celebrities are leaving their homes empty to attend glossy parties, and decide to try on a different pair of shoes for the night. Marc (Israel Broussard) is the new kid at school and eager to make friends, even if it means stealing. Emma Watson ditches her wizard robes for a Prada dress as the diva-ish Nicki, while another couple of friends tag along. There is scant probing into the psychology behind the crimes, leaving an eerie, unsettling atmosphere to the film.
As a piece of narrative, the film is rather repetitive and episodic, with little development. Like her previous films, specifically Somewhere, Coppola seems to revel in draining all the conflict out of the story in order to present a mundane reality. The Bling Ring is essentially a series of break ins, joyrides and parties, all filmed in a slightly detached manner; but Coppola’s film is nevertheless hypnotic and compelling. While Harmony Korine‘s similarly themed Spring Breakers veered towards poetic pronouncements, Coppola opts for more banal reflections.
Sofia Coppola has always walked a thin line between being self absorbed and genuinely insightful. Her films have often been criticised for being indulgent of her own niche existence, but I would argue that her niche has something to offer to the rest of the world. Not many working film makers can conjure the laconic, wistful atmosphere that she does, and she is an exquisite stylist. Cinematographer Harris Savides, who sadly passed away, captures the action with an observatory eye that is subtly alluring and yet detached, while regular music supervisor Brian Reitzell evokes an eerie night time feel with his mix of brash hip hop and simmering krautrock rhythms.
The Bling Ring is far from Coppola’s best work, and on paper should be thoroughly boring, yet it is oddly engrossing and quietly scathing.