Friday, April 29, 2011
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
By Alan Bacchus
As quiet as a whisper and as light as a feather – blink and you’ll barely miss Somewhere, Sofia Coppola’s latest picture. It's a self-confessed antidote picture to the historical and political pressure of portraying Marie Antoinette in her last film. There’s nothing tricky or complex or clever here. It’s a leisurely-paced, poetic vérité film. Take it for what it is.
Coppola admits to wanting to make an experimental film of sorts, a mood piece about feelings and tone and character. But this isn’t really a stretch for Coppola by any means. It’s a natural extension of her continued fascination with the irony of celebrity and the loneliness of fame. Like Bill Murray’s Bob character in Lost in Translation, Stephen Dorff’s Johnny Marco is a not-too-disguised version of himself, a vagabond actor living in a hotel – the stereotypical life of a bad-boy celebrity. But he also has a daughter, Cleo (Fanning), a sprite 11-year-old, who when her mother abandons her, comes into Johnny’s company. It’s a relationship that might just cause him to change his life for the better.
This is familiar territory, yet Coppola’s no-bullshit style and strict adherence to authenticity and naturalism eschews all the melodramatic clichés of other similar films. Marco changes gradually over the picture, resulting in a very traditional character arc, which satisfies all that we require and desire from any clichéd melodramatic Hollywood picture. This is where Coppola succeeds in creating something personal and experimental but also satisfying and somewhat moving.
While it’s personal, Coppola’s normally vivacious cinematic language is dulled in this picture. There was a palpable sense of energy in both Translation and Antoinette (not in The Virgin Suicides), which is missing here. Her lengthy takes of Marco driving his car in circles (an obvious metaphor for his vapid inner malaise), or Marco staring outside his window, or Marco holding his breath under water are more tedious and uninspired uses of her camera.
With that said, Coppola choreographs a number of brilliant set pieces. Cleo’s figure skating number, for instance, is hypnotic – a simple two-shot scene showing Fanning doing a rudimentary figure skating routine intercut with Dorff’s reactions. Without dialogue, the scene tells us how much Marco has missed in Cleo's life and his innate desire to reconnect with her.
Marco and Cleo’s trip to Italy for his latest junket is also the fun celebrity deconstruction stuff we saw in Lost in Translation. Dorff’s handlers carefully placing him in photo ops and press conferences contrasted against his glum internally tormented psyche is dynamic.
Whether one considers Marie Antoinette a success, Coppola’s ambitiousness to broaden her cinematic world was admirable. And so, some 4 years later, her retreat into the safety net of the Lost in Translation world is disappointing.
Somewhere is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Alliance Films in Canada.