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Adrift in the Land of Odd

Lost in Translation (Directed by Sofia Coppola)

Cambridge Arts Cinema

Sunday January 19th


We're in a luxury hotel in Tokyo. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is here with her fashion photographer boyfriend. All the way from California. Like anybody who's on a business trip, he's too busy to give her any time or attention. She is left jetlagged, on her own, in a huge and bewildering city where she can't get any sleep. Bob Harris (Billy Murray) used to be a big film star but that was twenty years ago. Maybe around the time that Charlotte was born. Two million dollars for a couple of days work on a whiskey commercial is enough to persuade him to make the same trip half-way round the world. Between photo shoots he has a lot of time on his hands and he can't sleep either.

This being a Hollywood movie, they of course fall in love. But they do it - very - slowly. This film never tells us the story. It takes its time, gives itself the room and then shows us just what is going on. Assured use of time and space mingles with the jet-lagged atmosphere to make it dreamy. Really dreamy. Laid over the unrelenting foreign-ness of Tokyo and the internationally generic hospitality of the hotel, it seems possible that these two people never actually met. In the manner of Mulholland drive or the Sixth Sense maybe this was all some sort of dream or supernatural slip in reality. You're almost waiting for the twist. But all the while it's creating this unworldly feeling the film keeps one foot on the floor. Bob's wife sends him reports and questions about shelving, and carpet samples from a child-filled home which is obviously mired in reality. We feel with these uncomfortable lurching shifts between the impersonal dreaminess of the hotel and the nappy-filled reality of his home life. The deliciousness of the luxury hotel dream increases.

And there are some gorgeous touches. A moment in the fuzzy early morning when Charlotte rests her head on Bob's shoulder. A head on the shoulder is probably the most obvious advance she's ever had to make. But Bob's response is merely to re-knit his fingers and re-rest them on his knee. But then there's the touch of Charlotte's ankle when they've both finally made it onto, but not yet into the same bed.

So it's a jolt when dialogue is occasionally adolescent. "I went to the temple, but I didn't feel anything" is perhaps the kind of dialogue that made Charlotte decide she wasn't going to be a writer. But in the end, the lack of wisdom in the words makes it all the more remarkable that there is so much in the pictures.

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