Lost in Transmission?

Lost in Translation
(written & directed by Sofia Coppola)

Critics have been exceptionally kind to Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. I was anxious to see it and, I have to admit, was a teensy bit disappointed.

The premise is a simple Brief Encounter between Bob (Bill Murray), an aging actor whose days of stardom are far behind him, and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a recently married young philosophy graduate -- both are pondering where their life is at, both are lonely and alienated in a city they don't know -- and that's about it.

One might wonder whether it's possible to make a mainstream film essentially without plot, where realism triumphs: I would tend to hope so. I've seen many non-mainstream films that have even less plot, notably Baraka (Ron Fricke), a wordless image-fest which this film often resembled. Where I think Lost in Translation failed was in portraying Tokyo -- the city is never more than a backdrop (magnificent, alien), its inhabitants reduced throughout to a running joke. Neither Charlotte nor Bob ever make any effort to engage with it, even when a minor accident forces them to visit a local hospital. That's all very well, and I get it that they're alienated, Americans abroad, really I do, but it means that the film might as well be set in a parking lot -- and two hours of desultory conversation in a parking lot doesn't make an enjoyable film.

Thus said, the cinematography's superb: it's an exceptionally well photographed parking lot. The acting from both leads is solid (it would have to be, or else the audience would surely have walked out halfway though), and Anna Faris does a good job in a bit part as a dumb blonde actress. There are several funny moments (Bob's wife fedexing him a box of carpet samples was my favourite).

I just really don't quite get what the fuss is about?

18 January 2004