Thursday, September 23, 2004

Lost in Translation

Ok, I'm going to stick an old review in here because I'm MENTALLY busy in work at the moment, and haven't had time to write a review in ages! Actually, I'll probably put in all my old reviews here over the next few days - just to keep everything up to date!!

Anyway, review 1 is one of my top movies of 2004....


Director & Writer: Sofia Coppolla
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi.

The moment the movie opened I was captivated beyond belief. Tokyo spreads out and fills the screen, accompanied by such haunting music that I was placed slap-bang in the middle of Bob Harris’ mind, joining him in his feeling of desolation and ennui. Though Tokyo’s electric city is a common view Sofia Coppola manages to instil an almost immediate impression of weariness – the camera not only shows us Bob Harris’ view, but it has become his eyes, and we (de rigueur) voyeurs are suddenly allowed a glimpse not only of who this character is, but who he was and who he has become. As soon as Bill Murray’s world-weary face comes into view, those who have not already grasped the complexities of Bob Harris’ character do so now with this first glimpse. The car pulls into a tall, grey hotel and Bob is surrounded by Japanese concierges, attempting to pull him every way and pressing packages into each available nook. However, Sofia Coppola chose well in Bob Harris’ image-maker, giving Bill Murray the starring role he truly deserves. He remains the hypnotic eye-of-the-storm, his face never changing from its bleak and tired crinkle, even as the dervishes spin around him. This first introduction to Bob Harris permeates the whole movie and his whole character – Bob Harris is every job you ever felt was beneath you, every trip you wish you’d stayed at home, every relationship you can’t understand how you got in to, and every day that feels like the long, dark Sunday-afternoon of the soul.

‘The Virgin Suicides’ looked great and, for all its faults, was a good story, but if the ultimate aim was connection, then it failed. ‘Lost…’ does not fail, which is why the main factor for me will always be the satiated feeling I got from watching it. I left the theatre smiling, and so many trimmings combined to give this to me that the result as a whole is as near to perfection as I’ve seen in a long time. Sofia Coppola is rapidly maturing into a fine filmmaker and a sterling writer. The direction is flawless and, as Ms. Coppola is wont to do, the music perfectly matches the camera flow and character movement. From its haunting introduction of Tokyo to the ebbing and flowing of the obligatory karaoke scene, the camera and score are so in tune with each other that they appear as one. ‘Air’ and Sofia Coppola gave a sense of fantasy and wonderment in ‘The Virgin Suicides’, but here she takes it all a leap further, where the original music sounds so much the better for having being written specifically.

Scarlett Johansson is a revelation in the making. Though not proud, in her own words, of the character she played in ‘Ghost World’, that is exactly where she first came to my attention, outstripping the wonderful Thora Birch and proving herself worthy of notice. Again in ‘The Man who Wasn’t There’ she shone, and I am purposely ignoring Scarlett’s earlier performances in ‘The Horse Whisperer’, etc, as I am now dealing with Scarlett Johansson the adult. She interacts perfectly with the young Giovanni Ribisi (unobtrusively great – he stays in the background as much as his character, rumoured to be based on the erstwhile husband of the Director, Spike Jonze), and transfers this pleasant skill onto the older character of Bob. This movie shows Johansson at her obstinate, spoilt, aloof, lonely, lost best – allowing her to fill out Charlotte as she chooses with smiles and gazes and body movements so simple you almost miss the glimpses of inner-character she is offering you.

However, this is undeniably Bill Murray’s film. Every scene, every moment, he fills with this character and forces you to take stock of his loneliness and unbearable ache of being. Sympathy goes one step further and the viewer is forced to feel and be Bob Harris, drowning in the pain of existence and willing him to do anything to change it. That is why, when a girl smiles at him in an elevator, his face instantly lights up and we begin to feel the warmth enter us as it has entered Bob. Coppola’s strength is her simplicity, and moments that stand out for me are the tableau of the two strangers and soul mates lying on a bed, she curled up and he straight as a board, his hand resting lightly on her bare foot. The moment screams with emotion, but represses it until the final departing, where both characters reveal their underlying fears. Another scene finds the two seated in a hallway, Bob in uncharacteristically ‘hip’ t-shirt and Charlotte in a platinum wig, finally succumbing to who they really are. Not the singer in a karaoke or the drinking woman, but two lost and lonely souls who just need to sit down for a while.
Take-on-take, this movie offers one of the most stunningly inventive and intuitive glimpses at human nature and its resistance of fate that I have seen – a stunning portrayal of friendship forged of desperation and the recognition of a kindred spirit. If this film is about anything, it is about two people about to go under, grabbing at the only life preserver they can see – each other. The writing, though perfectly good, covers a quarter of how the feeling comes across in this movie. The direction and acting extend this beyond mediocrity to excellence, the actors especially allowing the many quiet moments of reflection to speak for themselves. Silence is strength itself, and more is shown through the character interaction and facial tweaks than a thousand words could manage. True life depiction at its finest, and that rarest of creatures – a movie to be truly proud of.

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