Currently riding high in the BAFTA nominations, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation comes as something of welcome relief in a season in which epics such as Cold Mountain and that vaguely popular film directed by Peter Jackson have dominated our screens. A story of two disparate people who – trapped in the alien culture of Tokyo – find that they have much in common, it’s a film in which stillness and silence become a focal point. Lost in Translation definitely starts the cinematic year with a bang. It’s just a very quiet bang, that’s all.
Bill Murray confirms his transition into a respected character actor, which began with such films as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, with his portrayal of embittered actor Bob Harris. Playing a man who finds his life has somewhat slipped away from him, Murray’s performance combines the laconic cynicism that made him such a huge star during the eighties with a world weary bitterness and anger. It’s certainly one of the most engaging characters that he’s ever brought to the screen, and one that may bag him more than a couple of trophies before the awards season is over.
However, the film is very much a two-hander. At the opposite end to Bob is Johansson’s Charlotte, a young married girl who finds herself trapped in the cold (and surreal) environs of a Tokyo hotel whilst her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) goes on numerous photoshoots. Her youth belies the fact that, she too, feels that her life is on a road to nowhere. Thus, when they finally meet, Charlotte and Bob are something of a perfect match and yet totally different. They see in each other what they are missing in themselves. Johansson’s youth, beauty and gentle nature contrasts perfectly with the more cynical Murray. Taking a more relaxed approach to the situation she finds herself in, her quiet determination yet dwindling spirit evoke both joy and heartbreak as the movie rolls on .
Chekov once said "People eat their dinner, just eat their dinner, and in that moment their lives change." Sofia Coppola seems to have taken this maxim to heart in directing Lost in Translation. This is not a film about big moments, but the small pieces of life that make us what we are. A simple conversation between Bob and his wife about what colour the carpets in his study should be becomes a shattering insight into how withdrawn and jaded Bob has really become. Similarly, the film thrives on stillness and the observation of space, a brave move in a cinematic era in which rapid cuts and snappy dialogue seem to be the ultimate goal in movies.
This is not to say that the film is not without its humour. Indeed, there are some wonderful moments of slapstick (Murray completely failing to use a running machine properly) and some mesmerising exchanges between Bob and Charlotte. Its combined effect creates a film that is both heart-wrenching and uplifting and, whilst we remain unsure whether the characters will ever find themselves again, its certainly an moving experience accompanying them on their journey.