Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.

No 128 - Lost in Translation
Director - Sofia Coppola

Bill Murray has had this amazing comeback playing the wistful, distant, gloomy comedy. He is playing up to his haggard hound dog look and where once he was all wise cracking and sarcastic, now he is a sombre and sober type of comedy.
You see it in Broken Flowers, you see it in Wes Anderson's back catalogue (who is probably responsible for this new direction) and you see it in this film. Bill Murray's incredible charisma and screen presence pulls you through this film. Even though he does spend most of it moping around.
Bill Murray is important because Scarlett Johansson isn't the most charismatic character in this film, she does however benefit from the presence of Murray. The scenes they share together show a massive improvement in performance.
However, Scarlett Johansson does benefit from the more quiet performances. I will rate her performance in this and in Ghost World other any of the more mainstream performances (even with the added bonus of weird fetish gear in The Spirit). Also, seeing her lost sad looking face and her choice of wearing dressing gowns or big jumpers jsut helps to show how damned pretty she is. She is very pretty. The film knows it, hence the practically gratuitous opening shot lingering (for no discernible reason) on her bottom... in see through underwear.

This film is a very insular and private film. It follows two characters as they sit around in Japan and finally find each other and entertain and distract each other. They both seem to suffer from a general malaise. This seems to be a theme in Sofia Coppola's stories, specifically the concept of women who are suffering from general unhappiness with their lot. Here we are introduced to Charlotte who is in Japan with her achingly hipster photographer husband (who is Giovanni Ribsi - who I'd never perceive as an achingly hip character... I blame friends) and who is utterly bored. She meets the famous Bob Harris who has sold out and is marketing whiskey. Neither are happy and neither have anything to do so they hang out with each other and form a very interesting and beautiful relationship.
Because, this is a film which is led by character rather than story. There isn't really a story, the pair get up to some adventures but that isn't what the film is about - the film is about the relationship which forms between these two lost characters. It is a very strange relationship, there is never any threaten of romance (which is rare in a film) but it runs so much deeper than mere friendship. It is a mutual dependence on the other that creates really interesting and unusually genuine character dynamics.
Firstly their friendship is very awkward, there seems to be a lot of pauses and unnatural silences, but also - Charlotte gets jealous, or angry, with Bob when he gets off with the Jazz singer. Rightly so, after all he is married, but there is no doubt as to whether she fancies Bob - she doesn't - but yet there is this jealous anger. They need each other's company and attention. It is the only time either of the characters are happy throughout the entire film - so it is understandable that Charlotte is upset if it gets threatened. What I like is the way that the threat in the 'relationship' is handled, where most films would treat it as a big deal and a big objective to be overcome for the emotional final act, what we have in this film is far more realistic. An awkward silent lunch, an apology and everything is back to normal. You see this is a relationship that transcends the cliches of film. Hell it is a relationship that transcends the film itself.

This film truly makes you feel like a nosy neighbour, looking in at somebody else's experience. Where as usually a relationship would be tailored to be understandable to the viewer, here we are unwanted witnesses to what is happening. Nothing is spelt out, nothing is clear. It is never explained how each character is benefiting the other (chances are even they don't know) - The one big moment between them - pretty much the crux of their whole relationship - is kept hidden from us. The whisper is kept a whisper. We see their reactions, but the film doesn't tell us what it is about.

As well as being an outsider to the relationship, we are a complete outsider to Japan. The film's title is, after all, Lost in Translation and here we are graced with scene after scene of fast paced Japanese talking, we're as lost as the protagonists - we do not have the benefit of subtitles. Likewise the city of Tokyo is also shown as a confusing and mystical place.
The confusion as they deal with the monster crossing in Shibuya or the other wordly stillness of the temples and weddings (all things I went out of my way to witness whilst in Japan, though the wedding was pure fluke) - the film doesn't go out of its way to alienate the viewer. But it does highlight the fact that this is another culture where you don't even share the alphabet.

And so, in the same way that you can't just go to Japan and expect to get by and blag it.... so too you can't expect to come into this film and have everything explained to you. You are an outsider. An outsider to Japan's culture and an outsider to Bob and Charlotte's friendship.

Though if you REALLY want to know what is said in the whisper, they make an educated guess here.

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