(Apologies for a 'technical fault' with this post - will be rectified soon!)
On Thursday, I attended the UK premiere of Sofia Coppola's new film Somewhere, one of the final screenings of the BFI's 54th London Film Festival. After winning the 'Golden Lion' (the ultimate prize) at the recent Venice Film Festival, there has been an exciting buzz of anticipation about the film and its director. Daughter to Francis Ford Coppola, who directed my all-time favourite The Godfather trilogy, Sofia has gained my affection all by herself, for her own distinctive filmmaking and contribution to a non-Hollywood cinema. From the stunning, hypnotic cinematography in The Virgin Suicides to a shared loneliness and dislocation in Lost in Translation, Coppola's writing and directing have stood out from the Hollywood blockbuster crowd. And, for her off-beat, observational direction, the independent film community adores her. Somewhere, had quite a reputation to uphold. Eliciting mixed reviews so far (and I expect more will follow), I found it, in the words of Tarantino at Venice Film Festival, "enchanting". The trailer is below (see here for a fuller Somewhere trailer).
Johnny Marco, Hollywood actor and party-boy with glamorous girls falling at his feet, is not content. It's not that he's particularly depressed (although his lethargy and apathy are palpable). Rather, Johnny appears bewildered; he doesn't seem to understand why he's in such an enviable position or why he receives relentless attention. Certainly, he does nothing to encourage it; his speech consists of monosyllabic answers, he dons the same jeans and old t-shirt and he actively refuses to court press and fans. Instead, we see Johnny as an ordinary person, caught up in an alien world of excess at the Chateau Marmont hotel (where he's staying for an unspecified time). For most of us, celebrity equals an extraordinary existence, but for someone who's supposedly accustomed to such a lifestyle, Johnny seems no more comfortable within it, than we would be ourselves. Johnny is numb. He is nonchalant. He lets the superficial, empty world in which he's found himself, wash over him, hoping that no one notices his lack of interest. He is a fascinating anti-hero, masterfully played by Stephen Dorff, who achieves so much in so few words or even body/facial movements. In one scene when Johnny's left alone, wrapped in bandages for a mould of his face, his heavy breathing and stilted silhouette become some of the film's most poignant forms of communication. Significantly, Coppola's playful and satirical humour punctuates any melancholy with other brilliantly executed scenes. The curious yet distracted eye movements made by Johnny as two pole-dancers 'entertain' him, is one highly amusing example. If you've seen Lost in Translation, you can almost picture Bill Murray's character Bob Harris (another famous actor) propped up in bed alongside Johnny at this point, or in Johnny's reflection as he repeatedly washes his face. You might also remember Bob's bewilderment during the "Lip my stockings" scene. (Watch the trailer for Lost in Translation, at the bottom of my blog page).
Surely, Coppola had been thinking of Bob Harris, in her creation of Johnny and, despite an altered time and place, that's one reason why Somewhere may elicit mixed reviews. It's a clear continuation of the earlier film's theme, ambience and character. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this film more if I hadn't seen the former, however this is a self-contained story in its own right. You could argue that Somewhere is Coppola's thematic sequel to Lost in Translation, but would that be any more of an issue than other directors who return to the same genre? Tarantino, for example, is most on-form when concentrating on his signature preoccupations, genres and impressive stylization. If people write or direct 'what they know', Tarantino is no doubt recalling his endless thriller/gangster/horror movie-watching as he grew up. Coppola, here, is perhaps channelling her loneliness as a daughter of a famous, travelling film director; who knows whether Dorff himself is supposed to share any similarities with her father. If this is an autobiographical piece, Coppola almost certainly deserves a critique of the film by itself, not to have it grouped with others.
|Bill Murray/Bob Harris in Lost in Translation|
|Stephen Dorff & Elle Fanning, Somewhere|
Similarities or differences aside, I found Somewhere enchanting. Coppola's trademark flair for an unhurried filming pace, lingering shots and character-driven narratives are all evident. Here, we are forced to be more observational than ever (perhaps an ironic comment on our celebrity-invasive culture?) and what we see before us, is very real.
Somewhere captures real feelings that we all have from time-to-time and, through indulgently slow, observational camerawork, the audience becomes a fly on Johnny's wall as he goes about his (vacuous) daily life. We remain interested as Johnny washes his face or drives his car round in circles, because whether real or metaphoric, we can relate to what's happening. We all experience moments when we lose direction and struggle to re-find it. And, it's often our relationships that stir us on to re-claim our path. Like Bob Harris, Johnny is ensconced in a past-his-celebrity-peak-slumber and half-tries to wake himself
up, but he doesn't try hard enough. Until, the entrance of a pivotal female character (for Bob, travelling 'companion' Scarlett Johansson; this time Johnny's daughter, Elle Fanning). In both films, the female lead becomes a catalyst not so much for an on-screen, radical and revelatory journey of self-discovery, but for the recognition that change is possible. Like Dorff, Fanning is superb and filming of her is equally intimate and laid-back, as she cooks breakfast or practices ballet. The delicately portrayed relationship between the two is enough of a reason to see this film, if you're not already convinced.
I'd love to hear your thoughts! x