|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.
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.