Lost in Translation

· culture ·

We went to see Lost in Translation a couple of days ago. I really like Bill Murray (I can't recall having seen him give a bad performance, even in a bad film), and Scarlett Johansson is also a fantastic, low key actress (she was superb in Ghost World--one of my favourite films of the past few years).

Sofia Coppola did a great job with this film; it's very funny, tender, beautifully shot and rather moving in places. But I have seen some reviews which question her reliance on some rather dodgy stereotypes of Japan and Japanese people for the humour. It's true that the film gets close to being insulting in places, but I think that her intention was to play up the characters' feelings of culture shock and general bewilderment with what was going on, and in this sense, it worked very well. I'm not as well-travelled as some people, but I instantly recognised that feeling of being completely at sea in a different culture, and deeply lonely as a result.

I found the tentative — but unconsummated — relationship between Bob and Charlotte believable and involving. There's a lovely scene where they are both lying (clothed) on Bob's hotel bed in the small hours, both unable to sleep. They are talking quietly about their lives, voices blurry with tiredness. The scene is shot from above, and shows Bob lying flat on his back with Charlotte curled foetally beside him, with bare feet. When Charlotte confides her fears about what she will do with the rest of her life, Bob reaches down and gently covers her feet with his hand. It's a wonderfully tender moment.

Bill Murray does dry wit and physical comedy brilliantly, but he can also play very subtle emotion in an affecting way. I'm sure I wasn't the only person with a bit of a tear in my eye at his terrible, stricken, bleak expression as he watched Charlotte walk out of the hotel.

The sensuality and sexual tension of the non-affair in this film reminded me a lot of In the Mood for Love — a film I watched for the second time a little while ago. In this gorgeous film, nothing really happens, but it is utterly gripping and electric. Julie made a comment on another entry about her liking for films in which nothing much happens, and I must say that I share her taste — I think she would love this film.

In the Mood for Love tells the story of two neighbours living in Hong Kong in the 1960s. Her husband is always away on business trips, while his wife works late at the office. Eventually, they realise that their spouses are having an affair with one another, and they go on to not have an affair. This doesn't even start to convey the crackling sexual tension in this film. It is gloriously shot in saturated colours, and there are long slow-motion scenes following the woman to a restaurant to collect take-out noodles. The music, the visuals and the wonderful, slinky elegance of Maggie Cheung as the woman make the scene completely mesmerising. When the camera lingers on her fingers touching the wall briefly as she descends the steps, I swear that the all the little hairs will stand up on the back of your neck.

Big budget Hollywood blockbusters could learn some important lessons from these films; sometimes fully-clothed characters who refrain from having an affair is far more erotic than those who rip all their clothes off and dive into bed.