Sunday, July 31, 2005

On Sofia Coppola’s LOST IN TRANSLATION 10/9/2003 LOST IN TRANSLATION starts its third week tomorrow in the Syracuse area at Manlius Cinema, & it’s now playing at Carousel Mall too. This is writer-director Sofia Coppola’s second movie. In 2000, Coppola’s first film chronicled the short & vivid lives of the five Lisbon sisters, recollected 25 years later. Right away, you know how the story’s going to end when the name of the movie is THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. LOST IN TRANSLATION is more straightforward, dispensing with flashbacks, fast forwards & voice-overs – though Coppola does use pop songs again memorably, especially in the kareoke scene. This film is set in the present, largely in & around Tokyo’s gigantic & disorienting Park Hyatt Hotel. Again, we can guess the story’s end. The plot here relies on two formulas that usually dictate outcome – the brief encounter of two travelers married to other people & the May-December romance. Bill Murray is Bob Harris, an aging second-rate movie star in town to shoot a lucrative but artistically humiliating whiskey commercial. Much of the excitement surrounding this film focuses on Murray’s startling, subtle & moving performance – not what we expected after the likes of CADDYSHACK, GROUNDHOG DAY, GHOSTBUSTERS, or even the recent WHAT ABOUT BOB? But I think a slower burn is 18-year-old Scarlett Johansen’s portrayal of Charlotte, the neglected wife of the frenetic, flattery-seeking celebrity photographer John, as played by Giovanni Ribisi. Rarely has a character spouted such geysers of fragmented speech & said so little as Charlotte’s husband. It’s no wonder this bright, likable young woman, thoughtful beyond her years, is shortly calling home & blurting, “I don’t know who I married!” And it’s not really surprising that she takes up with Bob. Bob’s not a seducer, but decent & unfailingly civil. He’s also operating in a long cultural moment of flux regarding who engineers encounters between potential partners. A quarter century earlier, Lux Lisbon’s aggressive sexuality disconcerted boys around her, and now it’s Charlotte pursuing Bob in Coppola’s second film too. One virtue of setting this new film in Tokyo is that Coppola can show the Japanese mimicking – translating, if you will – US culture, with sometimes bizarre results. Japanese media characters, especially a bleached blond talk show host, are curiously androgynous in this film in ways that pick up & mirror changing gender roles & confusion more effectively that direct commentary might. Bob is also old enough to be Charlotte’s father. This is most evident when Bob carries a sleeping Charlotte back to her room after an evening out, tucks her in, & -- leaves, his hand lingering on the doorknob for just an instant before he clicks it shut, locking himself out in the hallway. So Bob & Charlotte hang out, grapple with life’s purpose, make repeated attempts to connect with their spouses, & have one very short fight after Bob’s mortifying one-stand with a lounge singer. Here is their angry exchange, when Charlotte meanly observes: “She’s more your age. She probably watched the movies you made in the 70’s. When you were making movies.” He retorts, “Wasn’t anyone else there to lavish you with attention?” Unlike John, what Bob offers Charlotte is attention, which takes time. Coppola is fascinated by the dilemmas of time – in THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, by how & what we remember, & in her new film, by how we waste time, kill time, & are slaves to it. (I won’t spoil the treadmill scene by describing it here). Coppola as a movie-maker & Charlotte as a character both demonstrate their maturity by economy of expression as well as a refusal to be rushed. Both these films are compactly made, getting their jobs done at well under two hours each. And the film highlights the moments when these two people, jet-lagged & unable to sleep, take time to simply be present with one another. So – of course they part in the end, after a last conversation that we only see. Have a look at these two really good movies. You can get THE VIRGIN SUICIDES at some Blockbusters & at Emerald City Video on Bridge Street. This is Focus on Film & I’m Nancy Keefe Rhodes for Women’s Voices Radio. (693)