Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lost in Translation (2003)

Over at The Large Association of Movie Blogs, Matte Havoc's D.J. Heinlein is hosting a special blogging event called LAMBs in the Director's Chair, and this time the subjects are Sofia Coppola and Kimberly Pierce. I've never participated in something like this, so I thought I would give it a try, as well as review one of my personal favorite films. Plus, I move one step closer to completing my Oscars of the Aughts project, which if you haven't been keeping up, it's not to late to get started.
Lost in Translation is a film revolving around two people who are staying in the Park Hyatt hotel in Tokyo, Japan. One is Bob Harris (Oscar-nominated Bill Murray), a veteran actor who is shooting advertisements for Suntory whiskey, just as many celebrities have before him. The other is Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a young girl whose photographer boyfriend is always out. The two meet, and then strike up a relationship that starts friendly but my develop into something more.
There are a lot of great performances on display here. Anna Faris, better known for her outlandish comedies, plays a much-more-realistic, ditzy blonde actress promoting her big-budget action movie (co-starring Keanu Reeves, of course). But its the two leads that are most stunning. Murray has always had a hangdog, tears-of-a-clown look, but it has never been put to better use that it has here, and he fully deserved his Oscar nomination. Johansson, too, gives a fabulously subtle performance, and she shines with such radiant beauty that its no wonder Bob noticed her first. Where her nomination was that year is anyone's guess.
The lovely Sofia Coppola
But on to the main subject: Sofia Coppola. She's one of our greatest visual directors working today, and this film is a great showcase of that. What sets her apart from many other directors is that she's not at all flashy, but rather every film is constructed as a moving portrait meant to display an intangible theme. That's why I feel like its such a cheat that she was given an Oscar for writing: the stories in her movies are really just the canvas on which she paints her beautiful images. Take Marie Antoinette, her underrated 2006 film. On the surface, you could call it a revisionist look at the life of the famous French aristocrat. But if you look deeper, you'll find that it's actually a stunning examination of the melancholy of decadence.
Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst)
Lost in Translation, on the other hand, could be described in a single word: loneliness. Coppola turns her lens on these two Americans, who even though they're staying in the largest city in the world, constantly surrounded by people, they're completely alone thanks to language and cultural differences. They're alone (both physically and emotionally) in their own lives too: Bob's away from his wife and kids, while Charlotte is away from her boyfriend, John. Therefore we see why Bob and Charlotte are drawn to one another: they're both lost souls just looking to make a connection with someone, anyone. Its a basic human reaction to such circumstances, and Coppola's layers of loneliness and stunning images (credit DP Lance Acord for some of those excellent shots). Check them out below:
Its been said that Coppola based Charlotte on herself, with John representing her recent ex-boyfriend, director Spike Jonze. This implies that maybe Coppola was projecting her own loneliness on the screen, making this film deeply personal to her, and as a result we're treated with a gorgeous film. Here's hoping she continues to make films like this in her sure-to-be-prosperous career.
What do you think of Ms. Coppola? I never mentioned that she's the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, which obviously means she has greatness in her genes. Will she be able to avoid her father's flameout?
PS If you haven't seen the trailer for her next film, Somewhere, yet, go check it out now.
PPS A few months ago, when Summit was doing a major-player search for a director for the last two Twilight films, Sofia Coppola was one of the names mentioned. Although I would never wish such dreck upon any director who doesn't deserve it (why weren't they asking Uwe Boll instead?), I do think, of all the names mentioned, she would have been the most interesting choice. I am in no way a Twilight fan, but so much of those films are (mishandled) atmosphere that I wonder what an aesthetics-director like Coppola would have done for the films. But, now Bill Condon's going to be shooting vampire babies chewing their way out of the womb, so its his funeral now.


Simon said...

I love what you said, about her movies being paintings.

Jason H. said...