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Coppola lives up to family name with latest film

Mary Squillace | Tuesday, October 28, 2003

For a director with the last name Coppola, there’s a lot on the line. However Sofia Coppola, daughter of legend Francis Ford Coppola, does not disappoint with her second feature film Lost in Translation.

While Lost in Translation does not dazzle its audience with state-of-the-art special effects and a dramatic score or garner laughs with slapstick antics, Coppola proves that less is more by creating a no-frills film that is as compelling as it is unique and as entertaining as it is moving.

Bill Murray stars as out-of-work actor Bob Harris who is shooting a whiskey commercial in Tokyo. The monotony of his life drives him nightly to the hotel bar where he encounters Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a college graduate and fellow soul-searcher. As the week progresses and the two restless Americans spend more time together, a unique relationship blossoms between Charlotte and Bob.

The role of Bob fits Murray perfectly. With his artful mannerisms, he adopts a convincing air of despondency, but Murray does not withhold his characteristic humor. Rather, his classic sarcasm and dryness punctuate the film with laughs.

Young Johansson successfully complements this performance with her naïveté. Her natural reactions to Murray’s wisecracks prove to be far more entertaining than an overly scripted banter. Overall, the interactions between Murray and Charlotte come naturally and are positively endearing.

However, the true breakout performance is Sofia Coppola’s role as director. She strips the film of cliché and gaudy elements and tells her story in the simplest of terms.

By using dialogue and music sparingly (many scenes early in the film lack either), she creates a silence that speaks. Coppola creates empathy for her characters by allowing the audience to observe Bob and Charlotte doing the most mundane tasks.

Likewise, comedic relief only works in this context because, once again, it comes so naturally. Rather than contriving situations for laughs, Coppola lets her characters play off of their surroundings. She recognizes that much of the humor lies merely in the Americans’ efforts to communicate and function in Tokyo, and allows subtle humor to stem from this premise.

In addition, Coppola does not try to fill characters’ mouths with straight-from-Webster’s words and witticisms. While the writing is smart, it’s only effective because the conversations are not a huge stretch of the imagination.

Similarly, Coppola achieves dramatic tension by acting with the same delicacy. Though her protagonists are somewhat dysfunctional by nature, she avoids slipping into typical over-the-top melodrama – the film is completely void of hysterical outbursts, escalating sappy music, and emotional monologues.

Coppola presents nearly all of the character development and mounting tension visually. Additionally, each scene serves a purpose by succinctly (but subtly) offering some insight or plot advancement. In this way, Coppola demonstrates true skill and a style all of her own.

Furthermore, she reminds her audience that film is a medium and what they’re watching on the screen is truly a work of art. What’s more, unlike most films of this caliber, in spite of being innovative, Coppola’s style remains unpretentious.

Lost and Translation may not be action-packed or rolling-in-the-aisles-hilarious, but it is so honest, captivating, and original that moviegoers would be doing themselves a great disservice by missing this film.

Contact Mary Squillace at msquilla@nd.edu