Lost in Translation



                      Up until around 1998, Sofia Coppola was noted for her less-than-stellar performance as a
              last-minute replacement for an ill Winona Ryder as Mary Corleone in
THE GODFATHER,
              PART III
. Like Anjelica Huston, another scion of a famous Hollywood dynasty who was excoriated
              in the press when first directed by her father and then later earned an Oscar under his guidance, Ms.
              Coppola managed to overcome the naysayers with her finely wrought direction of
THE VIRGIN
              SUICIDES
. There was a dreamy quality to her work that was more European in flavor than that
              of many of her contemporaries. Ms. Coppola is willing to allow the camera to find silences and
              other odd moments that may not seem terribly dramatic but that distill a character's essence. Her
              collaborations with her cinematographer on camera placement and her editor on establishing the
              rhythm of the piece made
THE VIRGIN SUICIDES one of the more striking directorial debuts
              in the 1990s. With appetites whetted, audiences anticipated her next motion picture. Well, after a
              five-year hiatus, Ms. Coppola has returned to the big screen and undoubtedly audiences will
              be struck by the maturity and sheer beauty of her sophomore effort
LOST IN TRANSLATION.
              Taking a situation fraught with pitfalls -- an older man and a younger woman who are both at
              crossroads in their lives meet and become friendly while staying at a hotel in Tokyo -- Ms. Coppola
              has crafted a delicate, haunting tale.

                      LOST IN TRANSLATION centers on two people who find themselves adrift in Japan:
              Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a twentysomething traveling with her husband who is on assignment,
              and Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a middle-aged actor struggling with a failing marriage and a sliding
              career. He's arrived in Tokyo to shoot a TV commercial for a whiskey and pocket a quick $2 million.
              She's with her workaholic photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) who barely seems to notice
              Charlotte's presence. Both of the main characters suffer from jet lag and sleep deprivation, unable
              to adjust to the time difference. Eventually Charlotte and Bob cross paths in the hotel bar and
              they strike up a friendship. Ms. Coppola more or less eschews a romantic entanglement, although
              it is clear there's a sort of flirtation, each drawn to the other's spirit. In Bob, Charlotte sees wisdom
              and knowledge; he sees the endless possibilities of youth.
 
                      Shot on location in Tokyo by cinematographer Lance Acord,
LOST IN TRANSLATION
              unfolds at its own leisurely pace. Ms. Coppola is not afraid of stillness and quiet on screen that
              admittedly does not result in edge of the seat drama. But as writer and director she seems more
              interested in capturing small moments that accumulate into something larger. The early part of the
              film cuts back and forth between Charlotte and Bob, both struggling with ennui. Left alone by her
              husband, she explores the city and its environs. Bob's schedule is more regimented; he must shoot
              the commercial and its print campaign and there are hilarious moments involved, such as when the
              director barks out a stream of instructions in Japanese which are succinctly translated as "with
              more intensity" or "speak slower".

                      The success of the film rests squarely on the shoulders of Ms. Coppola's two leading actors,
              and she has cast both roles with care. Indeed, she reportedly wrote the part of Bob Harris for
              Bill Murray and waged a campaign to get the notoriously prickly and discerning performer to commit.
              Happily he did, for he turns in what could easily be one of the best performances of his career, nicely
              projecting the frustration and pain of one struggling to maintain, yet still open to new possibilities.
              Matching the actor is Scarlett Johannson who offers her first mature turn as the young married woman
              struggling for self-definition. She and Murray share a terrific chemistry that drives the film. The
              supporting roles are less defined (a problem in Ms. Coppola's first feature as well) but both Giovanni
              Ribisi (as Charlotte's husband) and Anna Farris (as a vapid movie star on a promotional tour) register.

                      Although
LOST IN TRANSLATION lacks "action," it does traffic in ideas and moods. It is
              a stellar movie that marks a milestone for the principals and for its writer-director. Sofia Coppola
              has arrived as a terrific filmmaker. I just hope we don't have to wait another five years for her next effort.

         
                                            
Rating:                         A-
                                            
MPAA Rating:             R for some sexual content
                                            
Running time:              102 mins.



                                                    Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.