Thursday, February 24, 2011

Somewhere ***½

Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
Chris Pontius, Michelle Monaghan, Simona Ventura

The Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood has become an institution that houses legend that range from the tragic (John Belushi's death), the iconic (James Dean auditioned for Rebel Without a Cause there...) and the purely Hollywood-esque (in the best Holly Golightly tradition, Keanu Reeves lived there for years until he was ready to buy a house).
It makes sense then, that Sofia Coppola decided to use this setting for her delicate portrayal of an actor (Dorff) trying to make sense of what his life has become.
The Chateau Marmont arguably represents more than just Hollywood, it also embodies Coppola's rich history within this industry. Writers are always told to write about what they know and Coppola has always been a master of extracting seemingly trivial details from her own experience and molding them into something that recalls universality.
On the surface then, the film captures a slice of the life of movie star Johnny Marco during a few days during which we see him attend press junkets, engage in casual sex, travel to Italy for an awards show and spend time with his daughter Cleo (Fanning).
It's this surface that always makes Coppola's films seem like the work of a spoiled teenager with dreams of filmmaking, but those willing to be seduced by her presentation of a world that's completely external to them, are usually rewarded with melancholy essays that deal with the inherent humanity that can be found in extreme separation.
Where Lost in Translation was a film about finding each other, Somewhere explores what happens when people begin to isolate themselves from the world.
As such, the film has undertones of Greek tragedies in which the heroes faced the wrath of the gods in order to fulfill a mission. The difference is that we don't see Johnny Marco battling Medusa (although the prominent gold statues during an Italian sequence could say otherwise) we see him battling the unnamed anger of someone who sends him insulting messages on his Blackberry.
We are therefore forced to look beyond the strokes of "poor little rich boy" the film suggests in order to empathize, or at least sympathize with someone that has it all but really has nothing.
The thing about Sofia Coppola's films is that they suffer from the very human tendency to oversimplify and the moment you try to encompass their meaning in words, this seems to evaporate in front of our eyes.
Somewhere consists of a series of precious little moments that lack any meaning when seen with judgmental eyes but whose meaning at the same time is so personal and unique that the whole movie could be taken as a recollection of memories pieced together randomly.
Coppola indeed seems to try hard to please her audience and find an ultimate meaning for everything she put together; therefore, the movie's finale might seem unsatisfying, when it could've been ethereal.
We could say then that the film fully depends on its audience's reaction to be something other than shadows projected on a screen. Yet, then again, isn't this what all movies are about?
Perhaps what makes Somewhere so difficult to connect to for some, is that the characters fails to ask their audience to love them. Failure in this terms is solely judged from a popular point of view, given that the characters themselves are so well constructed and thoroughly expressed that they never seem to be aware that they are being watched.
The issue of intrusion is also deal with in the movie. Johnny fears being followed by paparazzi and during a seemingly trivial moment he shows mild discomfort when he's sitting on a restaurant having a beer and a stranger goes "hey, Johnny!". We have to ask ourselves where can we draw the line when it comes to celebrities who arguably asked to be thrown into the public eye but are keenly trying to preserve whatever amounts to privacy.
Coppola handles this beautifully and despite the fact that we aren't technically invited to see Johnny's life, Dorff acts like there's no one there and gives in to moments of utter carelessness as when he engages in sex with a hotel guest.
Dorff, who has rarely shown this much emotion, makes a complex figure out of Johnny. What resonates the most about his character is his utter lack of self awareness. He plays him like someone who just "is". His indifference as he falls asleep watching two strippers perform in his room is hilarious and gains pure joy when sequences later the twin strippers return with a new routine for him involving rackets. The look in his face is one of pure childlike wonder and we understand then and there that this man has become someone who determines his life's worth by the moment he's living.
Dorff along with Coppola, make Johnny Marco a symbolic figure who's also quite real. Leave it to the director (along with the extraordinary DoP Harris Savides) to let us see Johnny's problems externally. Notice how he's rarely seen in open spaces, except for two crucial moments, otherwise he's inside a hotel room, inside his car driving around or walking through the hotel hallways which seem to get tighter with each scene.
This oppression is perhaps best represented with a not so subtle cast on his arm, which Johnny attributes to making his own stunts. In the life of an actor that means he got it just living his life.
Johnny rarely seems to be moving and Coppola often catches him in bed, drifting on a pool or being taken to places.
The director suggests that, more of a salvation, Cleo is who he once was. We see her as a free spirited child who despite having a famous father has not forgotten who she is. Her introduction in the film is done in a way that pretty much symbolizes their entire relationship.
In the previous scene one of the strippers comes up to Johnny's face and blows bubblegum (bubble is about to burst for him). Cut to the next scene and we see Cleo carefully signing her father's cast while he sleeps.
The camera moves towards Johnny and we get a glimpse of a tattoo in his other arm that reads "Cleo". She was there all the time.
This also represents what might be the central theme in Somewhere: the fear of being forgotten. Each of the characters seems to be drifting but trying hard to leave something behind. Whether it be Johnny's movies (which judging from the posters seem forgettable), Cleo's lovely ice skating routine or the whole idea of the Chateau Marmont (perhaps stories will be told about Johnny being there...) the characters seem to be scared about the possibility of not being remembered.
There's even a scene where they watch an episode of Friends dubbed in Italian but seem to rely on its nostalgia and feeling of home so much that they don't mind not understanding what's going on.
Yet this, like everything else in this fragile work, is out of the protagonists' hands. There is only so much they can control and eventually they too must face the fact that they might just be guests in this world.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I don't know what to say except, THANK YOU. Ugh, I don't know quite WHAT is about it - perhaps as you say Coppola's films are all about personal reactions but I do like it a whole lot. And Dorff is soooooooo good.

(I do like agreeing with you.)

Luke said...

I don't know guys... I'm sort of a Sofia confusee... it definitely had lots of nice moments but I was missing the ultimate goal. I thought Elle Fanning showed a lot of promise though, and I actually preferred it to Lost In Translation I think.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Great review, even if I disagree.

For me it felt too much like a personal statement, like a friend of a friend showing you their holiday videos. The unresolved nature of the narrative alienated me here.

free movies download said...

Somewhere is very nice and sweet movie which represent relationship in its own way.I like evrything about the movie its story,direction and scripting and last but not least acting.