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the pathetic caverns - movies by title - Lost in Translation

eclectic reviews and opinions

Lost in Translation

2003, D & S: Sofia Coppola

Lost in Translation blends broad, sometimes even slapstick, comedy with scenes of emotional incisiveness; it invites comparison with classic Woody Allen. Much of what's remarkable about it is how neatly it avoids the easy cliches of romantic comedy. Hollywood often pairs leading ladies with much older leading men, but in Lost in Translation the evolving sexual tension between married-two-years Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson) and married-twenty-five-years Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is handled with unusual delicacy. Each seems to regard it as an aberration to be treated with great caution. Both provide nuanced performances with depth and subtlety; if it's not the best of Murray's career, it's surely close.

Their attraction arises from a chain of coincidences: neither speaks Japanese and both are somewhat at loose ends in Tokyo (Charlotte is travelling with her photographer husband; Harris is there to shoot whiskey commericals). Both are insomniac, with a tendency to drift into the hotel bar at all hours. Charlotte is feeling ignored by her husband, who is always leaving, snoring, carping, or making eye contact only with a ditzy actress. Harris' remote wife communicates mostly by fax and Fedex; even when she's on the phone, she's a distant mosquito buzz the viewer has to strain to hear. Only gradually do the two realize they have more in common than English and sleeplessness, and the movie doesn't put any of the familiar phrases ("you're old enough to be my father," "this is wrong" ....) in their mouths. In fact, where a lesser film might put a hollow and hoary platitude, Lost in Translation loses a key moment of dialog in an inaudible murmur. The movie manages to be less about the will-they-or-won't-they tensions of romantic fufilment and betrayal than about the acquisition and transfer of painful knowledge.

All this is played out against a background of requisitely dizzying, if slightly tired, shots of modern Tokyo and easy, if often funny, jokes about confused L's and R's and other cultural misunderstandings. It's an odd mix, but nicely balanced, and it makes for what is easily one of the years' best films.

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