Thursday, 28 October 2010

LFF #4: Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010)

Somewhere has a lot to answer for. Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice, it follows in the critical wake of Marie Antoinette (2006) - which rather than being the over ambitious mess some would claim, is more of an 18th Century Madchester; an intentionally dreamy rave utopia in period dress. I've been a long time fan of Sofia Coppola and even though I enjoyed her luxurious vacation into royal debauchery, it's nice to see her returning to familiar ground. Comparisons will instantly be drawn with Lost In Translation (2003) - and certainly the theme of a celebrity coming to terms with a crisis in a home away from home (Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) spends most of the film hopping between hotels) fits with that particular movie. But there are also key differences. Lost In Translation, through its hazy, dreamlike photography (Lance Acord) and equally otherworldly soundtrack (Death In Vegas, The Jesus And Mary Chain) created a mysterious Japan, a place of loneliness and dislocation, where escape was found through an unlikely friendship. Somewhere is a much quieter, more meditative and more grounded piece of work. The locations are luxurious and exotic, but they're never played for glamour, excess or even dream. Our focus is Johnny, and his existence is lived between sex, sleep and self reflection. The first scene sees him driving around a race track which appears to be a vast, empty desert. With no music the static shot allows the car to pass around the circuit five times. This is Johnnys' life - he may be moving, but he's going nowhere. An obvious allegory perhaps, but a fitting one. This is Sofia, the artist, really finding her feet...

The title is an enigma in itself. What does Somewhere mean? Is it referring to the location of the characters? Their feelings? Their relation to each other, like the relative space between things? I'm not proposing that there's some great depth to the title, but your interpretation may well directly impact your viewing experience. I choose to see the title in wider terms and within the canon of Coppola - to me, Somewhere simply means the place you find your troubles. You can run as far as you want from regret, failure and depression. You can live the swinging parties lifestyle. But these are problems found in people, not places. And sooner or later you'll find them. Somewhere.

This isn't to say the film is bleak, however. The (utterly perfect) ending is ambiguous but also hopeful - in much the same way as Lost In Translation, which ended in an unheard whisper between its protagonists. It's also helped by Coppolas' impeccable taste in and understanding of music. The films main artist is Phoenix, and 'Love Like A Sunset Part II' provides the ending theme - the slow rhythm having been subtly sampled in several sequences throughout the film, which may only be recognizable to fans of the band. As the track (seven minutes in length) begins to crescendo and Johnny walks into the outland where he began, there's a sense of light on the horizon. It's an incredibly powerful scene and one which will linger in your mind long after the film has finished.

We pick up with Johnny at a time of personal crisis. He spends his nights tending a broken arm (he fell down a flight of stairs, drunk) and being entertained by the strippers sent to his room. Coppola lingers on these scenes and allows them to play out in full. The shot doesn't move, but occasionally cuts back to Johnny and his contemplative stares into an empty oblivion. The film doesn't pretend to have any insight into celebrity culture and lifestyle but there are some scenes (outfitted strippers included) that play on our perception of globe trotting and smiley press shoots. I won't give it away, but the scene with his co-star Rebecca (Michelle Monaghan) is awkwardly funny, as is the affecting press conference afterwards. It can be hard to elicit sympathy from a man who has it all, but Coppola and Dorff do it by playing it human. It can sometimes be all too easy to forget that just because you have a mansion in the hills, doesn't mean you're always happy. People carry emotional baggage whether they're movie stars or not, and Somewhere is a film that takes that idea and explores it honestly, without sentiment or artifice. Throughout the film Johnny also receives scathing and insulting texts from a private number, which he ignores. Literally, these are obviously from a person in his past that he wishes to forget - the emotional scars that the film wishes to present. But it could just as easily hold double meaning. The fact that a caller ID is never given leaves it open for the viewer to read a backstory into the film. Look beyond the surface and it could be us, the consumerist message board users, standing on the outside and inwardly judging and passing opinion. The beauty of Somewhere is that I'm not told to think like this by way of some condescending symbolism. I'm not right or wrong. I'm just allowed to be in its presence and watch its beautiful father/daughter relationship play out, in both its honesty and obscurity.

The performances are both terrific - Dorff is better than he's ever been, revealing unseen depths and emotion. He's every inch the fractured movie star and a phone conversation breakdown towards the end ("I'm nothing") is particularly moving. The star of the show however is Elle Fanning as Cleo. Mature, sensitive, subtle, warm and funny, she's totally natural in the role, giving three dimensions to a limited character that even actresses double her age would struggle with. The fact that I was never aware of it being a performance should say everything there is to be said, but it's a remarkable achievement and it'll be interesting to see where she goes from here.

It won't be for everyone (certainly there were mixed reactions at my screening) but this sees Coppola on restrained and commanding form. By stripping away the visual sheen, extending her observations and using music more sparingly, she's created a minimalist but captivating drama - exotic and luxurious, but relatable and heartfelt. I'll be seeing it again in March and frankly, it can't come soon enough. Because Somewhere, wherever that may be, is simply marvelous.

1 comment:

  1. I have just installed iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.