Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation (2003, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen, directed by Sophia Copola) is one of the few movies that I can and will watch again and again.

With a deft few words and interactions, all adult and all so painfully realistic, Sophia manages to create that rare movie that appears to have taken almost no effort to create at all. People walk around, they experience, they feel, and they emote. Nothing much happens. And yet, the ground beneath the two protagonists shifts just enough to make you feel that something very special indeed happens.

Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a celebrity who is in Japan for a week to endorse a whiskey and endure what he has to endure to make the millions of dollars that he makes. Between the shoots where he doesn't understand a word of what is said, he wanders around in a hotel that has robes and showers not designed for his size. He is unable to sleep.

Scarlett Johanssen plays Charlotte, wife to a celebrity photographer and also in Japan for a week. Her husband is away most of the time, and she also can't sleep. Having just graduated from college with a relatively useless philosophy degree, she is lost as to what she wants to do with her life.

Naturally, the two meet. They commiserate and reflect. They don't have an affair, but they cling to each other with a desperate need to have someone who understands them in this alien cultural landscape.

This could be a Bergman film, except it is more accessible, and perhaps less wide-ranging in scope. Everything, from the camera shots to the choice of music, just works.

A big bonus is that you can find the shooting script for the film online. The story and characters in the script are similar to those of the finished movie, but some major parts of the dialog in the script are different in the movie, and some of the scenes are reordered (the movie erroneously places one scene near the beginning that should have been placed later on, but it's not a big deal and you won't notice it unless you really look for it). Watching the film and reading the script is a double pleasure, since they are effectively two works of art revolving around the same theme, but sufficiently different so that each can be enjoyed on its own.

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