Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)

04Mar11

Bill Murray (Bob Harris), Scarlett Johansson (Charlotte). Screenplay by Sofia Coppola. Directed by Sofia Coppola. Rating: 15. Running time: 104 minutes.

I said it after seeing Somewhere, and I’ll say it again: Sofia Coppola is the most respectful of directors when it comes to communicating with her audience. The bludgeon to the head is most certainly not in her locker, but neither are the mystical tools of Godard. Instead she sits quite quietly and perfectly in between, wonderfully capable of conveying so much and with such clarity, without once feeling pretentious or patronising. Films like Lost in Translation are what make watching movies so worthwhile. It is truly the rarest of gems, with the softest but sweetest of touches. If you want to see an attempt at cinema that is human, all too human, then this is undoubtedly the place to come.

The location is the mayhem of Tokyo, the perspective that of two Westerners, and the context one of alienation. Bob is a bored middle-aged movie star, out there alone to make money from endorsing a brand of whiskey. Charlotte is a Yale philosophy grad, accompanying her husband abroad on business. Both are stuck inside the same cultural haven of a hotel, which may have its sufficient number of Japanese idiosyncrasies but is nothing in contrast with what is outside. They both have too much time on their hands, sharing insomnia and preferring to talk or explore than sit like solipsists looking out over the city’s skyline. There’s undeniably something fascinating about watching such encounters unfold, and it is telling that, despite Bob and Charlotte having partners, both only in fact really talk to one another. Their friendship ends up being the only part of their lives that is truly worthwhile: trying out bizarre clubs and restaurants, watching late night TV, confiding in a way that paradoxically feels so suitable for strangers.

Hardly anything happens in Lost in Translation. It’s a wonder how such a minimalist film can remain so thoroughly compelling. And yet it undoubtedly does, the humour somehow persistent throughout, largely stemming from amusing linguistic problems, running easily alongside the drama ensured by the subtle but substantive dialogue. The main source of intrigue, however, is the ever-present hum of romance. It comes across naturally in the chemistry, but Coppola also implies it bit by bit in her choice of images. Without ever needing to say it in so many words, we can somehow see and fully understand how each feels moved and influenced by their Brief Encounter. It appears to end awkwardly, perhaps inevitably, but the final scene is the greatest treat saved until last. I don’t want to explain how apt it feels, and I couldn’t anyway, but it’s exactly what is needed to wrap things up, ending things somewhat magnificently. This is a truly glorious film, from a woman I believe will turn out to be one of the freshest and most inquisitive auteurs and minds of our time. There are moments when we all feel alone, or at least a little lost; nothing will capture and penetrate that experience, and provide a soothing solution, quite like Lost in Translation.

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One Response to “Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)”


  1. 1 The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999) « jacob williamson | thoughts on film

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