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Megalopolis and Coppola's views on society

The director returns to talk about the American Dream, but not as we expected

Megalopolis and Coppola's views on society The director returns to talk about the American Dream, but not as we expected

Francis Ford Coppola is the greatest director in the history of cinema? The classic question that no one wants to try to answer seriously. However, the director's filmography speaks for itself: The Godfather Part 1, The Godfather Part 2, Apocalypse Now. Three titles that could effortlessly stand on the podium of any ranking of the best films of all time. Not to mention works like The Conversation or Bram Stoker's Dracula. In short, Coppola is a name with a certain weight in the seventh art. And this is why the announcement of the realisation of Megalopolis, a new (perhaps, a final) film by such an auteur, would have generated a whirlwind of interest and speculation regardless. But then there were rumours about the nature of the project. An idea born over forty years ago, carried forward over the decades without ever finding producers willing to invest the necessary resources for its realisation. This led to the drastic decision: self-financing. More than 120 million dollars from personal resources and the sale of some vineyards in California. The last rebellious gesture of the anarchist turned tycoon, aiming to leave us an artistic testament and his latest perspective on the United States. Precisely on this last theme, Megalopolis gains interest. Not because it is a great film. To be honest, it is an unreceivable work, both in terms of quality and cinematic grammar. But it is a great story, carrying with it two key interpretations about society and the American system. The narrative one, given by the author's vision, and the one linked to the nature of the project itself. Two levels that are able to intertwine and confuse.

Let's start from the cinematic side: Megalopolis is set in an unspecified period in New Rome. A city that lives halfway between imperial Rome and a present-day New York but with strong references to the 1930s. In this late Empire context, the main characters move: Cesar Catilina (Adam Driver), an architect with the not well-defined power to stop time who wants to rethink the city through the Megalon, a bio-material he created; his antagonist, the mayor Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito) and his daughter Julia (Nathalie Emmanuel), who ends up falling in love with her father's enemy; finally, Wow Platinum (Audrey Plaza), a former journalist who, emotionally hurt by Catilina, marries his uncle, millionaire Hamilton Crassus III (Jon Voight), and plots revenge together with Clodio Pulcher (Shia LaBeouf). From this brief plot alone, it becomes clear that the parallelism between the fall of the Roman Empire and the American one is beyond didactic.

For years, attempts have been made to marry the narrative of a crisis-stricken America, even going beyond the truth, and even if cinema has recently highlighted the criticalities and cracks of the American Dream, Coppola goes further, substituting himself meta-narratively for the protagonist - after all, who is better able to bend time than a director? - a victim of a world he no longer recognises. Thus emerges a critical vision of a schizophrenic society, enslaved by change but unfit for further progress. The director spares no one. There is space dedicated to fake news and post-truth; as well as to cancel culture and debates on the concept of wokeness; and heavy undertones towards the role of women. Coppola does not hold back even against political apparatuses, through the character of Shia LaBeouf who decides to found his own trumpist-populist movement (complete with red caps), to which the director symbolically associates a swastika and intersperses, in a certain scene, frames of speeches by Hitler and Mussolini. There is everything and nothing in Megalopolis: simplifying, one could say that this is the true metaphor of the America that Coppola wanted to create, although often the impression is instead that of being faced with a long outburst full of contempt towards the entire world. As we said, there exists a whole other America in this great story. Megalopolis is a film that could only be exclusively American, a dream of a single man who brings to light a decades-long mega-project, involving some of the top representatives in the field and becoming a concrete reality, managing to gain a place at the center of the world and on everyone's lips. The reason why we cannot really hate Megalopolis is all here, in the oldest and most romantic story in the world: the individual standing unyielding against the entire system.

@apnewsentertainment Francis Ford Coppola's self-financed “Megalopolis” is a passion project that the 85-year-old director has been pondering for decades. Looking back while speaking at Cannes, the filmmaker says has no regrets. #francisfordcoppola #megalopis #cannesfilmfestival original sound - AP Entertainment

However, going beyond the rhetoric, we can learn something more. Megalopolis is the product of an enormous personal wealth, born from the same system against which we are all cheering and not from a man who came from nothing. The very name that the project carries is so big and important that its mere mention can open up possibilities that go beyond the actual quality of the project. An example? In all likelihood, if Megalopolis had been directed by another director, it would never have had access to the Cannes Film Festival Competition nor many of the positive reviews received. Not to mention the final result, which becomes a perfect example of the importance of a layered system like the film industry when it comes to films of this magnitude. Perhaps this is precisely the great story of Megalopolis, a story where the macro meets the micro, eliminating simplifications such as those linked to the American dream and hitting us with a single concept: the real world is infinitely complex.