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Lost in Translation

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Lost in Translation
 
Soffia Coppola I 2003 I USA
 
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Much alike L'Avventura, Michelangelo Antonioni's masterpiece, Lost in Translation is a tale of psychological disconnection. When we travel to a different country there is always that sense of loss and detachment, that pervading impression of lack of guidance, if you will -- to put it bluntly, there is a vast difference between what we have got used to and what we're presented with now. Culture clashes, distinct traditions and utterly dissimilar languages are what Bob Harris [Bill Murray], a semi-retired movie star, has to confront. He is offered with the chance of shooting a whiskey advert in Tokyo for two million dollars and so he travels there. Leaving both his wife [whom he's been married to for twenty five years] and his kids in America, he finds himself in a situation where he seldom thought he could ever have been. The thing is, Bob ca'nt get to sleep because of jet lag. Having gone to the hotel bar, he meets Charlotte [a wonderful Scarlet Johansson], a twenty-something married girl with a degree in philosophy. Amongst the unlikeliest of circumstances, strange possibilities arise. There is a vast age difference between the two, yet there is some sort of love lurking somewhere -- while the sexual magnetism may not be visible [or concealed, for that matter], the platonic kind of love is all there. They both realise that they are in the same incidents -- misplaced, perplexed and with no route to follow. So once Charlotte's husband, a professional photographer [Giovanni Ribisi] leaves Tokyo, they begin to spend their free time for a few days. In the end, the whole thing turns out to be more than a mere friendship, and so Charlotte starts to truly question her mission in life, for which she seeks answers from Bob. There is a moment in which Charlotte says, "I just don't know what I'm supposed to be. To which Bob answers, "You'll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you."

 

Lost in Translation is a beautiful film. Thematically, aesthetically, spiritually and philosophically -- whichever way you look at it, from whichever angle, there is no doubt as to the film's effectiveness. Soffia Coppola returns with an even superior film after her sophomore debut, The Virgin Suicides. What she has accomplished here is not at everyone's hand reach -- just how many times have we seen a director so young behave like an ever-knowing and experienced one? The picture does not feel like some amateurish, na´ve experiment. Rather, it feels refreshing, original and somewhat innovative, narrative-wise. It's a simple tale about a relationship; a bizarre one, at that, but one that works nonetheless. Bob and Charlotte simply fall for each other because they understand themselves. Not just orally, but internally, too. They know why they feel like they do, they are able to understand the causes of their actions, and, most important of all, they share their loneliness. As I mentioned before, the film bears a rather interesting resemblance to L'Avventura. Whether it has been done deliberately or absent-mindedly is beyond me, but the thing is that it's there for us to see it. The two characters, like Sandro and Claudia, create a relationship between the two, and eventually it flourishes as the course of the film goes along. However, instead of resorting to sex, unlike the aforementioned couple, they just get to know each other. It is solely the friendship aspect that lies amid Bob and Charlotte, but nothing else -- that said, they are both trying to get rid of their disconnection, and it is by talking continually and delving into each other's psyche that they fulfill their wishes. Both their marriages are not really working -- Bob, despite being with her wife for such a long time, is told on the phone that his kids have got used to missing their dad, and Charlotte, who is rather na´ve as for the entire thing, is day by day growing more apart from her husband, who seems to be more concerned about his job. And it is as a result of these two abysses that are produced amid them and their respective partners that they become friends. They both believe that if something is going to fail, why not be successful in another area? If they're lost in some aspects, why not try to find themselves in others? The tagline for the film reads, "Everyone wants to be found". And that is precisely what the film tells us.

 

The motives for their disconnection are simple: Japan is such a different place. What may seem unique to them is common for the inhabitants, and that is the problem. The Japanese are illustrated as people whose behaviour and manners often vary, but that's not all; Bob is way taller than any of the people [in one of the scenes we see him in a packed elevator with his head sticking out above the rest], he does not comprehend anything at all that they say to him [like when, during the filming of the ad, it seems that the director is talking to him for ages and at the end it is all translated in one measly sentence], and the people are all so unlike. Because of the relentless misunderstandings, problems and doubts that take place, Bob and Charlotte resort to themselves so that all their problems are solved. Whether they are or are not, the audience is not told. At the end, however, in a scene that is handled almost perfectly, Bob whispers something into Charlottes ear that were not able to hear. What is said, once again, we do not find out, yet it implies a lot of things. Soffia Coppola is a director that, more often that not, likes to suggest instead of just showing. She wants delicacy, not obviousness, and it proves to be very suitable for the quiet film that this is. The ending is an open one -- and thus we're left thinking and wondering, but there isn't a single moment in which you doubt the film's importance. She can easily execute the significance that a silence can contain or the emptiness of another -- this is a film that talks, not just via its words, but through the lack of them or through the abundance of mere gesture. Take, for instance, the scene in which Bob and Charlotte are both lying in bed. The room is completely silent when, all of a sudden, Bob extends his hand and reaches out to touch Charlotte. Instead of stroking her face or something of the sort, he touches her toes. What may look as a meaningless, purposeless or simply redundant scene, has in fact a lot to say; connecting with each other is not an easy thing to do, but by the way they do it indicates that their relationship is an awkward one.

 

Lost in Translation begins with one of the loveliest starting shots ever: that of Scarlett Johansson's cuddly little butt, clad in a pair of tight pink panties. However, to say that she was marvelous in this film just because she spends one third of it going round in her pink panties and a top would be a dire understatement. I was very impressed with her performance; that gullibility, that sense of disorientation that constantly seemed to invade her finely-shaped countenance was as rare as it was extraordinary. And what with this and her fascinating work on Girl With a Pearl Earring, she sure is one to be watched. But Bill Murray -- ah, Bill Murray. He not only gives the performance of his career, but succeeds in every sense of the word. Be it him doing an impression of Roger Moore as 007, him staring directly into the camera, sat on his bed, looking melancholic, saddened, disillusioned, him not understanding what the ad director is saying to him or him wondering what "Lip my stockings means", he's always able to remain both believable and astonishing, immersing himself into the role in unimaginable ways. The acting is ever magnificent; all controlled by Coppola's disciplined maneuvers and tackled in strange yet valuable manners, it manages to be the thing that carries the film on its shoulders. Lance Acord's stunning cinematography restlessly investigates the protagonists conversations, sometimes being very close to them, as though eavesdropping, and others showing us parts from a top view, as well as tending to every once in a while insert some seemingly random shots of Tokyo and its people. It has scenes that last for a long time, thus giving the actors more time for improvisation and more freedom for the joy that is acting. And it works charmingly.

 

Quietly delightful, magical, moving and oddly funny, Lost in Translation is a unique film about the success and failure of relationships. Slow, yet ever compelling and never rushed, the film has a dreamlike quality to it that helps in maintaining that sense of strangeness that the characters feel. If there ever was a motion picture that could restore your faith in movies, then this could be it, because, simply put, it translates to screen with seamless fluidity. It is one of the finest films of 2003 and a thoroughly great example of how the process of captivating an audience should be done.

 

[89]

Reviewed by Pablo Hernandez, 2004