Sofia Coppola

Cannes…from the Heart of an Outsider

Leila Hatami, Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion, Jeon Do-yeon, Carole Bouquet

An American boy on the sands of Cannes, France: that’s how I’d imagined myself ever since I was seven (maybe eight?) years old, yearning for transcontinental air travel and a responsible adult to accompany me to the grandest of the world’s film festivals.

It’s a rather odd dream for a child to want to travel to a small town that comes alive in the international spotlight only once a year to celebrate an art that’s far beyond his comprehension. It’s also rather selfish. What the kid in me didn’t understand was that spending thousands of dollars of your hard-earned coin to relish in the best that world cinema has to offer benefits little more than the airline, taxi service, and bellhop who carries your bags. Casual Cannes-goers ultimately mean nothing in the grand scheme of the festival circuit, where moneymaking is all that’s left for anyone in an industry that–when it comes down to the life and death of it–could disappear off the face of the earth with little more than a monetary crater in its wake.

I don’t think, in the early months of 1997, my little brain even knew who Ang Lee was. If you would’ve asked me to sit through LA Confidential or Funny Games, I’d have told you I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies. The understanding of film, however, is an ever-evolving entity, and Cannes fosters an appreciation for the various perspectives in film that make it such a diverse, captivating industry.

But, how characteristic of a child is it to yearn after the flashiest, most sensational aspects of something you don’t quite understand? I wanted nothing more than to be a part of the machine that makes Cannes tick. The stars are out in full red carpet glamor, the journalists buzz about, the businessmen shake hands and exchange their millions.

Of course, Cannes is all about business, too. Just today, a $20 million deal for a film was inked by Paramount for Amy Adams-starrer Story of Your Life. There are deals here and deals there, as beautiful films from the brightest artists still come with a hefty price tag.

I can now read about who purchased what or who thought what about which film in the trade papers, but the fact remains that I am now, and always have been, a Cannes outsider. The way I view Cannes is filtered through the lens of those in attendance, and the type of coverage I could  be giving from my cramped, wood-paneled bedroom only speaks to my career aspirations that may or may not come at a later date; most bloggers like me only have the luxury of covering other coverage when it comes to festivals like Cannes or Toronto or Telluride. I’m either building a foundation to get paid to write about Cannes–from Cannes– in the future, or I’m wasting my time on a ship that will never set sail. Either way, I’m not there now.

But, that’s the flaw of living in the quick-fix film industry of today. It’s all rather infantile, really. We’re told that we all matter. My desire to cover Cannes without being there is difficult, but Hollywood consistently pushes each of us up the ranks of self-importance. We’re told that our dollar is worth spending on every tentpole that comes out. We’re pushed en masse to the theater, encouraged to tweet our reactions, to wear the t-shirt, to rep the brand for free under the guise of engaging in an elite sort of fandom; though, when it comes down to it, we’re all outsiders to the heart of the industry that beats at a place like Cannes. We lose sight of that from time to time, so perhaps it’s best if some things are left to the protected, sacred mystery of exclusivity.

Though, it’s funny how in such a fast-paced, easily-accessible world, we can still feel so disconnected from something as widely-covered as the Cannes Film Festival. There’s only so much a review of the opening night film or a photo of the crowds lined up to see the day’s most buzzed-about feature can do to satiate one’s yearning to be there. It’s difficult to put your finger on just what makes the festival so alluring, but it has got to be something, because the appeal is wide.

Cannes draws celebrities, filmmakers, publicists, and businesspeople from around the globe; the jury that decides the recipient of the festival’s top prize (the Palme d’Or) this year is made up of Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Winding Refn, Leila Hatami, and Willem Dafoe among others; essentially a mishmash of someone from here, someone from there and everywhere in between.

The films in and out of competition represent diverse artists above all else. They have a place there because their films matter. They’re different. They’re things we haven’t seen before. They’re not bogged down with spandex, capes, and cheap romantic subplots.

There are films from established directors, and films from people we haven’t seen much from before. In that sense, Cannes makes insiders of the outsiders and places them on the same plane of presentation as the big boys, giving them a stage for the rest of us to see at some point down the line when the hoopla of the festival has withered away and all we’re left with is a remote and a subscription service with On-Demand capabilities.

It’s the job of the journalists at the festival, then, to make Cannes really mean something in the moment. We’ll all be invited to the party of opinion at some point, but these are the people who travel–sometimes on their own dime–to the waters of Southern France all for the sake of seeing, posting about, and championing films that will likely make it stateside within a few short months. These people sacrifice their sleep, sanity, and time, but it’s really a donation of all those things when you look at the big picture; world cinema–often under-appreciated in large markets like the US–is covered. It’s truly covered (in every sense of the word) by the hordes of writers who pack the screening rooms day after day and present their impressions to readers. Why? Because they’re the insiders who’ve been chosen to make it known. The prestigious torch is theirs to carry. They have a responsibility to promote the art in a climate that fosters the desire for spectacle versus creativity. They can’t afford to lose sight of the types of films that are shown at Cannes.

The journalists, while heralding films of worth, can also destroy the stragglers of the pack. Just yesterday we witnessed the downfall (more like the kick while it was already down, following a nasty dispute over final cut between Harvey Weinstein and director Olivier Dahan) of Grace of Monaco, the festival’s opening night film, which didn’t seem very Cannes-y in the first place. Still, the film’s stars (namely Nicole Kidman) and creators showed their faces, gave interviews, and upheld the tradition of a Cannes insider.

For most of us, all we’ll ever be to Cannes is someone hovering around the perimeter, holding out our basket, hoping to be thrown a few scraps here and there. We won’t show our films at special screenings, we won’t know how the sunlight hits our faces through the flash of paparazzi bulbs, how the salt air of the Mediterranean Sea wafts over the crowds waiting for the morning’s first screening. We won’t know how the wine tastes at the cafe around the corner from the best screening room. We won’t know what it’s like to be shut out of a screening because our press pass hasn’t been upgraded to “pink” from the standard “blue.”

We will always know, however, what it’s like to consume. Isn’t that the goal of it all, when you break it down? The filmmakers, the artists, the studios, the stars; each of them are vying for our consumption of their product.

We outsiders know nothing about the actual experience of Cannes, yet reap so much from it as these consumers. The kinds of films that have been shown and championed at Cannes rarely ride their glory all the way through to Oscar season, but the esteem is enough to last a lifetime. Tracking Oscar potential at Cannes is to miss the point entirely, though. Correlation is tricky to pinpoint, and it doesn’t matter. The Oscars have their ideology (and are a preservation of adult and art films in their own right), and Cannes has its own. Cannes is a celebration, a showcase, a hand on the ticker of the industry propelling world’s artists forward as they come together to say “look at what we can do,” and so we do just that. We obey, and we look on.

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I’m lucky now to be older, wiser, and more aware than my 7-year old self to know the whys, the ins, and the outs of why I want to be there in the first place: to experience that magical confluence of minds, talents, and to get swept up in the waves of collective appreciation shone from the world stage.

That’s something else I didn’t understand as a kid; the importance of Cannes across so many mediums speaks to the unison the art of cinema promotes. People spend thousands of dollars just to be there in the moment, in the magic of it all. People watch multiple movies–back to back–each day, writing about them in rented flats, cramped hotel rooms, and buzzing cafes.

People travel across oceans and trek mountains for the movies.

Though I can now experience the festival after sifting through journalist’s Instagram accounts, festival hashtags on Twitter, and hourly updates on the trade sites, I am still there secondhand, and that menas I’m not really there.

Cannes is a cloistered shell with pearls on the inside. Its mystery and allure are prestigious, and a great way to pinpoint the art we often lose track of. The exclusivity keeps the world’s eye on the prize. It elevates film to the level of the all-important instead of demeaning it to the easily-accessible. The films are challenging, complex, and fueled by creative passion from international perspectives, but at the end of the day, we’re all watching movies; alas, that’s the point–Cannes is so magical because it’s not about simply seeing a film, it’s about watching them and looking out for the ones that matter, because they often find a home there. We’ll all get that chance sooner or later.

So, as I sit here, some thousands of miles away from Cannes, I take pleasure in looking forward to upholding my end of the bargain when I buy my ticket to Foxcatcher or Maps to the Stars in a few months. It’s all about grasping the thread when it passes by, and I trust everyone at Cannes to push it in my direction.

We must trust that Cannes is one of the few remaining treasures left for world cinema. We trust that the filmmakers, artists, journalists, and insiders value the preservation of this congregation, that despite business deals and publicity, the fruit of the labor isn’t measured in such petty terms. They’re there for the art, for the treat of inclusivity, for the treat of being there when it all happens. They’d better enjoy it after all; they’ve moved across mountains and oceans to get there.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Fishing for Feminism with Sofia Coppola’s “The Little Mermaid”

sofia-coppola-chateau-marmont-roomreporterDeadline Hollywood reported Tuesday that Oscar-winning writer-director Sofia Coppola is in final negotiations to helm a live-action interpretation of The Little Mermaid.

The news comes on the heels of one of the most forward-thinking collective votes the Academy Awards have ever seen. 12 Years a Slave triumphed as the year’s Best Picture, appealing to the white voters’ taste—a taste that had chosen only one female for Best Director, no films about slavery or directed by a black person for Best Picture, and overwhelmingly chose white actors and actresses for top honors in the acting categories since its inception nearly 90 years ago. 

Diversity—and the celebration of it—is not, at least from any discernable pattern, the Academy’s cup of tea.

That doesn’t mean it’s an inherent, natural part of the Academy’s complexion, or that it’s a conscious decision by the Academy’s 6,000 (and growing) membership to shun minorities of gender and race.

One thing is clear, however: the industry is angry.

We’re experiencing a wave of reactionary movement pushing for the greater presence of women and racial minorities in the industry. There’s a hunger that permeates the discussion about women and minorities in film. Trade publications, Oscar bloggers, and women directors themselves are voicing their frustration with the glaring lack of female hands behind the lens and the wafer-thin opportunities and stories built around the ones in front of it.

The reactionary feminism and reactionary support of the New Black Wave trio (Steve McQueen, Lee Daniels, and Ryan Coogler) last year is persistent, ever-present, and urgent. It’s angry, in a sense. Enough is enough and, as 12 Years a Slave’s campaign spelled out for us quite literally near the end of awards season, it’s time for change.

I imagine many of this year’s Oscar voters found themselves at a crossroads between personal preference and moral obligation.

Preference seemed to tip in the favor of Gravity, a film with a narrative that’s driven solely by a female character played by an over-40 actress who consistently proves her might as a box-office draw in the age of the fading bankability of stars in general. Gravity garnered widespread critical acclaim, recognition from top Oscar precursors (including DGA, Golden Globe, and PGA), and titanic worldwide ticket sales totaling over $700 million.

12 Years a Slave emerged early in the race as a game-changer. Touted as the Best Picture winner as far back as Telluride, it’s the first film with a predominantly black cast (directed by a black filmmaker, about the “black” perspective during slavery) to ever win Best Picture, albeit decorated by a predominantly-white voting base.

While either outcome would have been historic in its own right, 12 Years a Slave will ride the next few years as the defining film for black filmmakers at the Oscars. It will be the volleying point for voters in the future who will turn away at the next black film to enter the race because it’ll all be so “been there, done that.”

The one thing 12 Years a Slave did by winning was not only to cement itself as the crowning black achievement in the eyes of a white majority, it also became an endpoint for these films, at least for the immediate future

The Academy listened to industry pressure and defied all statistical precursors that by all means should have put the Best Picture Oscar in Gravity’s court. 12 Years a Slave won by default as the sole objectified race picture of the year (The Butler and Fruitvale Station were nowhere to be found when Oscar nominations rolled around).

It’s “equality” by default, but that’s not enough.

The numbers speak for themselves, and audiences respond to diversity in a way that’s not as overt as the journalistic narrative seems to make it out to be.

While we’re still seeing male-driven, top-heavy blockbusters dominate the box-office, there’s no denying the impact women are having on American audiences. Let’s take a look at films which opened to over $35 million in weekend sales from last year:

▪    Gravity – $55.8 million
▪    Insidious Chapter 2 – $40.2 million
▪    The Conjuring – $41.9 million
▪    The Wolverine – $53 million
▪    Despicable Me 2 – $83 million
▪    Monsters University – $82.4 million
▪    Man of Steel – $116.6 million
▪    Fast & Furious 6 – $117 million
▪    Star Trek Into Darkness – $70.2 million
▪    Iron Man 3 – $174.1 million
▪    Oblivion – $37.1 million
▪    G.I. Joe: Retaliation – $40.5 million
▪    The Croods – $43.6 million
▪    Oz The Great and Powerful – $79.1 million
▪    Identity Thief – $34.6 million
▪    The Heat – $39.1 million
▪    World War Z – $66.4 million
▪    The Hangover Part III – $41.7 million
▪    The Great Gatsby – $50.1 million
▪    Thor: The Dark World – $85.7 million
▪    The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – $158.1 million
▪    Frozen – $67.4 million
▪    The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – $73.6 million

If we remove sequels, family/animation films, and superhero/adaptation films, we’re left with original stories:

▪    Gravity – $55.8 million
▪    The Conjuring – $41.9 million
▪    Oblivion – $37.1 million
▪    Identity Thief – $34.6 million
▪    The Heat – $39.1 million

Only one relied on the box-office power of its male star (Tom Cruise in Oblivion) to open a large number. The others? Driven largely by their appeal to women or appeal because of women. The Conjuring featured two strong central female characters (Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor) in a genre that largely skews female, Identity Thief hit it big solely because of Melissa McCarthy’s presence, while her appeal combined with Sandra Bullock’s presence in The Heat propelled it to box-office success as well. What else do these four films have in common? They’re all films with original screenplays and successful gross to budget ratios (Gravity being the best opener. Go figure, with a woman pushing 50).

Merely winning an Oscar or driving box-office doesn’t give credence to an underrepresented group. Such films will remain the fluke until internal, structural change occurs. The importance of a stage like the Oscars for films like Gravity and 12 Years a Slave lies in the Oscar’s existence as a stage for visibility.  The award itself is essentially inferior–a golden statue is meaningless in the face of inequality. The award is a golden man, after all.

Reactionary feminism in the industry seems to have brought about a greater consciousness—the narrative is there. It’s in the trade papers, it’s on the Oscar blogs, it’s coming straight from the mouths of female filmmakers and producers themselves in even more easily-accessible mediums (Lena Dunham and Ava DuVernay on Twitter, Shonda Rhimes speaking out about her DGA “Diversity Award”).

So, then, is Universal’s decision to tap Coppola’s talents affirmative of a consciousness of inequality —similar to the Academy’s, which won 12 Years a Slave Best Pictureor merely a studio seeking the most appropriate talent for the job?

Let’s hope for the latter.

Coppola of course won her first Oscar for writing 2003’s brilliant Lost in Translation. She continued as the Oscar successor to her father, Francis Ford Coppola, who’d previously won a slew of Oscars for The Godfather and its first sequel. Not only did Coppola’s win for Best Original Screenplay cement her family as a budding dynasty (her brother is a small-time producer and director, while her niece, Gia, preps to release her first film as director this year), it also placed added another female to the roster of winners in a non-makeup, non-hairstyling, non-costume design craft category that women seem to have a greater chance of winning in.

Lost-In-Translation-scarlett-johansson-23676554-1060-565Since 1940, when the award was first introduced, eight women (including Coppola) have won the award: Muriel Box, Sonya Levien, Nancy Dowd, Pamela Wallace, Callie Khouri, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, and Diablo Cody. In the Adapted Screenplay category, seven women (Frances Marion, Sarah Y. Mason, Claudine West, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Emma Thompson, Philippa Boyens, and Diana Ossana) have won the award since its inception in 1928. Only one woman (Ruth Prawer Jhabvala) has repeated a win here.

The Academy (and the industry in general) seems to throw women away once they’ve fulfilled their duties as object of the industry or Academy’s participation in the overarching social narrative. A black film wins Best Picture, another one won’t win for 20 years (let’s check back in 2024, shall we?). Kathryn Bigelow wins Best Director, and she’s snubbed for her vastly superior Zero Dark Thirty a mere three years later.

Jane Campion, Callie Khouri, Diablo Cody (fellow female winners in the Best Original Screenplay category) have achieved minor successes in their own right, but none has matched the rapidity of release (she averages about one film every three years).

Coppola has taken an alternate route, however, than most men have after they win an Oscar. A win in this category generally either compliments the upward trajectory of men who win it (Joel & Ethan Coen), or turn a budding male career into a powerhouse of future hits (Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen). In short, men who win the award have a much greater chance of actually using the prestige of visibility to bolster longevity in the field.

Unlike other women filmmakers who’ve garnered acclaim from the Academy in this category, Coppola has gone on to have a generally high-profile and sustained career. Though none of her subsequent films have generated as much praise, respect, or box-office as Lost in Translation, her follow-up, 2006’s Marie-Antoinette won an Oscar itself, while 2010’s Somewhere and 2013’s The Bling Ring rode the festival buzz machines and played well—if to less-than overwhelming box-office—with critics and audiences alike. She consistently works with big-name talent, and her reputation and stance in the industry has waned little despite her films’ underperforming ticket sales.

Coppola’s attachment to The Little Mermaid speaks to the faith studios have in the quality of her work, and it shows that they’re paying attention to her work and applying it to suitable material. A woman is not objectified for her gender, whose work takes precedent over her being a woman? Is this the film industry we’re talking about?

Coppola’s films have an innate alienesque quality about them. They radiate with a sort of specific melancholy that mostly arises from her female leads. They’re often at a polar opposite crossroads between relegated stagnance and self-discovery, experienced with the men in their lives to the point of boredom or detachment, and often are stuck between a moral duty to fulfill a societal role or break free to explore and confront their independence and its beckoning for action and engagement; a suitable metaphor for the current state of women in the industry. They’re experienced, revved, and ready to go; they just don’t know (or aren’t provided with equal routes) how to harness full control and take the reins just yet.

How perfectly does Coppola’s style fit the story of The Little Mermaid?  Of course her interpretation will more closely follow the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale than Disney’s lighthearted approach, though even this version poses a few potential problems for Coppola:

  • The subject material is inherently anti-feminist, being that it revolves around a female who essentially sacrifices her way of life for the love of a man, which validates her decision
  • It’s  being billed, as of this publishing, as a family film, meaning that she’ll more than likely  have to compromise her aesthetic to make it more accessible, which could divert any sort of free reign she may have had over the material if it were to be approached with an adult perspective

There’s no doubt that her talent, focus, and perspective will see through to a fresh take on the aforementioned issues. Her continued success as a powerful female director ensures that her career cannot be defined by pure gendered status, that her achievements have not been a fluke, nor have they been an object of an of-the-moment reactionary equality movement.

Coppola’s ability to land such a high-profile directing job speaks volumes about the ever so slight shifting of consciousness regarding gender in the industry, and this is the kind of change that needs to occur at the internal level instead of merely throwing Oscars at whatever of-the-moment minority case is deemed worthy enough to gain gold sympathy.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Urban Mausoleum; Loneliness and Dependency in “Lost in Translation”

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Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation tells a story revolving around two people that form a deep friendship while visiting Tokyo, Japan. Various subjects contained within the film include those regarding marriage, romantic relationships, diversity between cultures, and the phenomenon of celebrity. The most prominent of subjects within the film deal with innate human feelings of loneliness and alienation as framed against one of the most densely-populated spaces on the planet. Through the use of cinema’s various aesthetic tools, Coppola conveys the thematic idea that any given person’s interpersonal connections can at once facilitate feelings of loneliness yet also allow such feelings to become altogether more bearable.

To set the stage for an analysis of the film’s thematic handling of the subject of innate human loneliness, it is important to first characterize such feelings that ostracize the film’s protagonists. The audience is introduced to Bob Harris scenes that characterize his feelings of alienation as complex byproducts of interpersonal connections through work, his life at home, and within his adaptation to new surroundings that radically differ from the American culture (and people) he is used to.

The first time the audience sees Bob he is sleeping in the backseat of a car. A close up shot frames his face against a backdrop of neon advertisements that are slightly out of focus but clear enough to be distinguishable objects. As Bob opens his eyes and adjusts to his surroundings, the shot is almost immediately replaced by a mid close up on the opposite side of the car window that reflects the neon advertisements in clearer focus that mirrors Bob’s initial adjustments to his new environment. An extreme long shot of the streets of Tokyo replaces the mid close up, establishing Bob’s minute location amidst the mass of dwarfing urbanity. The shot immediately characterizes Bob as an individual who is out of touch not only with this gaudy atmosphere, but also with himself seeing as the proceeding extreme long shot shows an advertisement with his face on it. Because the ad contains a picture of Bob, the audience understands that he is a famous figure of sorts; however, the text on the advertisement is entirely in Japanese. Seeing himself advertised amidst a barrage of foreign words contextualizes Bob’s sense of self; although he recognizes his own image, he cannot understand the literal meaning of what surrounds him. He is as disconnected from himself as he is from the Japanese language, culture, and setting he is currently immersed within.

Bob’s isolation from his surroundings is visible in another scene that relies heavily on mise en scene to speak to the viewer. Arriving at a hotel, Bob (a Caucasian male) is carefully placed at the center of an elevator car and surrounded by Japanese businessmen, each of whom stand a good foot shorter than him.  To say that Bob sticks out like a sore thumb amidst this crowd (as well as in the rest of Tokyo) would be an understatement. In fact, most of Bob’s interpersonal experiences towards the beginning of the film are those that convey his sense of culture shock as he adapts to a foreign culture radically different from his own.

It is eventually learned that Bob is an aging actor working in the city to promote a brand of whiskey, and he is further isolated from his surroundings in a scene that sees him filming a commercial for it. Sound plays an important part in this scene, seeing as a director who presumably only speaks Japanese barks orders at Bob’s translator, who relays the directions to Bob in English. The scene is composed in a fashion that never sees Bob and the director in the same shot. Simple shot-reverse shot editing conveys to the viewer that the director and Bob are in fact in the same room and part of the same conversation, but neither is really on the same page as the other, hence the lack of equating the men together in the same shot. Bob is being utilized for what he has built a career upon (the art of acting) yet is hindered by his inability to understand what the director wants from him. This lends itself to Bob’s increasing feelings of isolation; he now not only feels disconnected from the world around him, he literally can no longer interact with it. In similar fashion, a proceeding scene in which Bob shoots a print campaign for the whiskey brand sees him in various states of commercial fabrication; countless hordes of makeup artists and wardrobe stylists adjust his appearance to the point of perfection, caking makeup onto his aging face and placing heavy-duty clamps onto the back of his jacket to create the illusion that an ill-fitting jacket is the perfect size for him. It is all a trick for the camera, a fabricated version of reality to convey that Bob is a “perfect” human being. But the fact that the audience is able to see the work that goes into creating a “perfect” reality suggests that Bob’s sense of reality is merely a constructed one as well.

A motif that runs throughout the film involves that of nocturnal restlessness, connecting both of the film’s protagonists (both are experiencing this) through editing. The shot that precedes the introduction of Charlotte contains a close up of Bob staring wide-eyed at the ceiling from his bed. A jump cut shows Charlotte (presumably at the same exact time) similarly unable to fall asleep as she stares through a window. The motif of the pair’s separate (but shared) restlessness characterizes their loneliness and facilitates the personal bond (and its resulting mutual coping quality) that is to come.

Charlotte’s loneliness stems from a somewhat different place than Bob’s, although her various interpersonal connections also offset feelings of security as well as facilitating internal harmony. Charlotte is not alone on her travels to Tokyo; she is accompanied by her photographer husband on assignment in the city to shoot rock bands and models. Charlotte, although married to someone involved in the art and entertainment industry, is a self-proclaimed unemployed drifter of sorts, having graduated with a degree in philosophy but entirely unsure of what course her life will take. Charlotte aimlessly wanders the streets of Tokyo in search of some sort of spiritual enlightenment, but is overwhelmed by the intense visual onslaught of commercialized Tokyo as well as by the barrage of inner-city sounds (such as pop songs, car engines, etc.) that increase in volume (exaggerating her subjective perception of the city) as their containing shots become wider and wider, dwarfing her in a sea of urban chaos.

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Charlotte’s husband is physically alongside her at select times (primarily when the two are alone in their hotel room) and their relationship is often characterized through the film’s cinematography. A particular close-up shot towards the beginning of the film sees Charlotte as she looks out a window from her hotel room. The audience’s visual perspective sees the city that overwhelms her in clear focus, yet she is out of focus in the same shot. The city is all Charlotte sees, and the intense feelings of anxiety and uncertainty the city’s vast openness instill within her are mirrored by the incomplete image we see of her unfocused silhouette. Although offscreen, a door is heard opening and closing and accompanied by her husband’s voice as he enters the room. As his unfocused silhouette embraces that of Charlotte’s, a rack focus brings the couple into focus and the city skyline out of focus. This suggests that although Charlotte feels isolated and out of place in her new surroundings, her husband brings an internal solace that grounds and comforts her, providing a momentary distraction from the internal discord the city produces within her.

Although Charlotte has a relationship with her husband that provides a sense of comfort, another character offsets her feelings of stability within her marriage. A particular scene begins with a medium shot of Charlotte and her husband embracing as they walk down a hallway. They are very affectionate, fondling each other in a public display that conveys their attraction to each other; however, the couple stumbles across a blonde woman named Kelly, who is revealed to be an acquaintance of Charlotte’s husband (as well as a famous starlet). Kelly is immediately contrasted with Charlotte through costuming; Charlotte wears a frumpy grey sweater whereas Kelly wears a revealing, fire engine red top that aligns her as an object of sexual desire for Charlotte’s husband. As a conversation strikes up between the two, Charlotte is positioned in the middle instead of on the same side as her husband, whom has taken an intense interest in Kelly that renders him completely indifferent to his wife’s frustrated expression now that she is no longer the center of attention. Charlotte has become an afterthought instead of the object of desire for her husband, whom is completely wrapped up in the bubbly Kelly’s outward display of vapidity and stereotypical “dumb blonde” hilarity that is undermined by her prominently-displayed bosom. As the conversation ends and the “real” couple walk away, a long shot views their departure from the hallway as separate entities devoid of interpersonal affectation. The couple entered as one and leave as two, separated by the husband’s obvious attraction to Kelly which upsets Charlotte and sets forth an imbalance in her internal state that is further facilitated by his announcement that he is leaving for a few days to complete an on-location shoot. For the first time since the audience has been introduced to her, Charlotte will be without a companion in an environment that overwhelms her.

The most important interpersonal connection in the film is that between Charlotte and Bob. The two eventually begin their relationship after exchanging casual glances in a bar they mutually frequent. Charlotte sees something in Bob that he also sees in her; a magnetism exists between the two thanks to the paralleled comparisons and motifs the film has been building between them (being alone, nocturnal restlessness, observing the city through windows, etc.). Their comfort with each other is reflected in a scene that relies on calculated mise en scene and sound elements to cement their relationship as one of mutual comfort. Bob and Charlotte, alone and with nothing better to do, go out to a bar only a few days after initially meeting. The bar provides a much-needed, dimly-lit escape that facilitates a recreational release both desperately needed. As the pair mentally unwind and become comforted by the other’s presence, the camera movements drastically alter, shifting from static to hand-held. The scene also utilizes lighting to characterize their increasing comfort with each other and their surroundings, seeing as a medium shot of Bob shows him standing in front of a screen projecting fireworks onto a wall for decoration; the projection now resides on Bob’s face, for once allowing him to finally blend in with his surroundings and not become overwhelmed by them. The sounds of the bar increase in volume as the night progresses, allowing both Bob and Charlotte’s voices to blend in with the crowd, sharing a sense of “fitting in”, if only for a night. As the sequence of their night out progresses, a graphic match recalls the aforementioned scene in which Bob observes Tokyo through a car window for the first time; however, instead of Bob looking out the car window it is now Charlotte who observes the city, her face framed in a close up that conveys a sense of wonderment and amazement with the city she has rarely experienced before, almost as if being with Bob inspires a fresh perspective on life for her. These feelings contrast with how the audience has seen both Bob and Charlotte interacting with their surroundings in previous scenes; a feeling of isolation and loneliness no longer exists so long as Bob and Charlotte share the same diegetic space.

Bob and Charlotte are established as a connected pair through various shots that proceed their initial night of bonding at the bar. Their discussions come to revolve around topics of love, life, and the pressures of marriage and family. As Bob and Charlotte become increasingly entangled within each other’s similar dissatisfaction with life, their relationship becomes deeper. A particular scene towards the end of the film characterizes their relationship through cinematography as well as its mise en scene. Bob and Charlotte are framed in a high-angle medium long shot as they lay on a bed. A medium shot of a window shows their reflection in the glass cast over the illuminated nocturnal skyline of Tokyo, indicating that this is a friendship formed by, within, and facilitated by the city and the feelings of alienation it evokes (which ultimately brings them together). Charlotte’s voice punctuates the somber image as she informs Bob that their friendship would never be the same if they returned to the city under any other circumstances, reaffirming what the image implies; their relationship is given a context and becomes immortalized within the city. A cut to the aforementioned long shot endures throughout the scene, only shifting to shot-reverse close up shots towards the climax of the conversation as their discussion becomes more intimate. Proceeding the shot-reverse close up shots, a cut returns the audience’s perspective to a high angle above the bed where the couple lays. Bob awkwardly reaches out to stroke Charlotte’s foot as it just barely touches Bob’s side. The couple is not positioned to suggest sexual attraction, but rather to suggest their comfort with their newfound friendship and the strength it inspires within them, seeing as they both fall asleep amidst shots towards the beginning of the film that suggest they could not fall asleep on their own.  As Bob and Charlotte’s relationship progresses into a deep friendship, the film works to “correct” these previously-established motifs that characterize their feelings of loneliness and isolation. Another example would be a scene that sees Charlotte visiting the spiritual center of Kyoto where she observes a Japanese couple being married in a traditional ceremony. The sequence recalls an earlier scene in which Charlotte views Buddhist monks chanting and praying that she proclaims to have felt no emotion while observing. As Charlotte observes the wedding ceremony, close up shots convey her perspective to the audience; as the ceremony goes on, Charlotte begins noticing smaller and smaller details (close ups show the couple holding hands, exchanging glances, etc.). This suggests that she is finally “feeling” something after meeting Bob as opposed to feeling “nothing” as she observed the Buddhist monks before she met Bob.

The conclusion of the film sees Bob whispering something into Charlotte’s ear. What is said is unheard by the audience, seeing as it is drowned out by the intentional increase in volume of the surrounding noises of the city. The exchange functions as a pseudo consummation of their fleeting relationship. Through various aesthetic techniques the film has established this relationship as a positive one for both parties. From the “correction” of certain negative motifs to the paralleling of Bob and Charlotte with other inferior (at least from an audience perspective) characters previously throughout the narrative, the film enunciates its point clearly enough; while the audience may not be privileged enough to hear these intimate words between close friends, the film has spent enough time aesthetically establishing their relationship as one that made each of their feelings of loneliness altogether more bearable.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Sofia Coppola Debuts “Somewhere” Poster + Trailer

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For whatever reason I’ve apparently had my head so far up my ass over the course of the past week, enough to miss huge news and updates from the lastest project, Somewhere, from my favorite director in all of film; Sofia Coppola.

The first full-length trailer and official poster were released last week and all I can say is I’m nothing short of epicly GEEKED beyond words. The film feautures usual Coppola staples…a muted color palette, placid (and a tad timid) cinematography, and fantastic music from Phoenix (Coppola is married to the band’s frontman, Thomas Mars).

If I can gather anything from the trailer, it’s that the film will be a signature Coppola piece…doing for LA what Lost in Translation did for Tokyo.

As if we haven’t been waiting long enough, the release date is currently set for December 22nd, 2010 (in a very wise bid to gun for Oscars, something Marie Antoinette stumbled with due to its just-outside-Oscar-season October release back in 2006).

The film was also a no-show at all of the major film festivals thus far in 2010, which prompted some industry analysts to question the studio’s confidence in the film (or perhaps, their reluctance to show the film at Cannes, where Coppola’s last film, Marie Antoinette, was met with extremely vocalized negative backlash immediately after the showing).

Regardless, I’m nothing short of amazed with the trailer…not to mention beyond excited.

Click here for the amazing trailer.