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Somewhere

Sofia Coppola comes in for a lot of stick, in much the same way, to my mind, Justine Frischman of Elastica used to. Rich girl daring to have a go at film-making, daughter of Francis, easy ride, nothing to say, hiding to nothing. And whilst it’s very much a case of ‘the less said the better’ regarding any Elastica album beyond the first, Coppola demands a much fairer assessment.

The Virgin Suicides is often brilliant; Lost In Translation is perfection; even the much-demolished Marie Antoinette has many good things to offer and cleanly clears ‘turkey’ country. All of the above also look great and sound great, and possess an impressively tasteful Zwigoff-meets-Van Sant imprimatur.

Somewhere is another light-heavy success that continues to inconspicuously prowl Coppola’s obsessions: bleached sunlight; people frittering time as some inevitable crisis encroaches; the poignancy of boredom; awkward conversations between disconnected people; pretension as comedy.  Once again there is a kind of pregnant languor that suggests all kinds of things but leaves them all off-screen, where they belong.

Stephen Dorff is a near burn-out film star shacked up at the Chateau Marmont, infamous haunt of other lost tinselled souls, languishing in his own lack of ‘there’ as so many Coppola protagonists are (think a two-decades younger Bill Murray from Lost In Translation). He’s a ghost waiting for the next fictitious body to fill. (There’s a great scene where he’s buried in glooped layers of prosthetic, sat in a dressing room chair, silently inhaling and exhaling, not really there, though perhaps enjoying the nearest he’ll get to some kind of repose, as the camera slowly approaches: eventually we jump to him as an old man, fully made up, recast, literally, as himself in 50 years. Coppola is simply giving the character his unlikeliest ever role: himself, old.)

He’s grimly, solitarily hedonistic and the only thing that shocks him is his own reflection in an early-morning mirror: he’ll pay for a couple of blonde strippers to assemble a makeshift set of poles in his hotel room and smirk morosely at their far-from-seamless routines, sipping at his JD-and-Coke all the while as tinny music blares from their cheap stereo. They’ll leave when he falls asleep.

He doesn’t know the difference between the two rented dancers and doesn’t need or want to. He doesn’t notice as Coppola emphasises the join where the illusion of artifice ends and a gleaming red stiletto slips from sexual accessory to piece of footwear. He barely notices, initially, as his daughter (Elle Fanning, perfectly cast), who is on a presumably fleeting visit, skates in front of him, on an empty rink, as he sits in the stands. He’s too busy texting. But something changes: he’s taken aback suddenly, and an improbable awakening of sorts has been stirred. In the car, he asks: ‘When did you learn to skate?’ His daughter replies: ‘I’ve been skating three years.’ He’s so out of the loop his Ferrari restlessly screeches around in the opening shot that his child is a stranger.

He’s the kind of guy who will follow a girl in a sports car for a thrill, and head back to his hotel room to find a party in full swing. He is hardly mobbed and mingles and observes what he’s bankrolling: one nervy young actor approaches with fannish, faltering enquiries; a groupie hovers waiting for him to push an open door, then suffers his premature evacuation into slumber as he putters out of steam. His proximity rankles his dismissive co-star at a promotional photo-shoot. He sends the stand-in male masseur packing when the latter’s trousers come off mid-rubdown. He bangs the starfucker across the hall then finds his daughter waiting outside. He lies in blue TV glare late at night watching a Gandhi documentary which might as well be beaming in from another galaxy. It’s a sequence of drifting occurrences that merely puncture palsied plenitude that are beginning to stack up against him and accrete nameless dread.

His daughter, though, is the antidote to space-filling self-abuse, and when he has to take her with him to Italy for a preposterous awards ceremony, he begins to thaw in earnest as what might’ve been meaningless moments are now infused with paternal significance. Not quickly enough to avoid a midnight rendezvous with a hanger-on, but he’s getting there. He sits poolside in his six-star hotel room and slurps beer as his daughter swims and tentative intimations of rebuilding ensue, and he even sneaks away from press-and-luminary captivity early with her and heads home. Here is something, there all along, with which he can fashion an aim in his life as he has had no need for one: he is on a conveyor, is a product and barely exists off-camera.

Of course, he can’t shed his old skin with any ease: on his return there’s a topless woman in his bed. But she’s no longer a pleasant distraction: she’s now inappropriate. However, his daughter, who is increasingly revealed as being as fragile as she has every right to be, is soon heading off for summer camp: what then? How to replace this new found need in his life, his daughter? He capitulates briefly in a late night phone conversation after he has seen her off (and there’s yet another ‘What did he say?’ moment a la the close of Lost In Translation where chopper-blades override his parting exclamation). ‘I’m fucking nothing. I’m not even a person.’ He is briefly frozen in agony through a series of Edward Hopper-esque moments as the final self-assessment quietly bears its open-ended outcome.

Somewhere veers towards the Van Sant end of Coppola’s visual spectrum, and the result is a powerful miniature portrait of a sliding performer approaching accord with ‘normal’ life, possibly, and is to be applauded.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I’m interested to see both this and her Marie Antoinette.

    Her father has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, and it’s a big one, she’d probably never have got to make movies but for her father. On the other hand that unearned access breeds resentment and so I think clouds the fact that the movies she makes are quite interesting.

    It seems to me she has areas of interest and focus and that this is developing those. She has a keen visual eye and a nice feel for mood. They’re not strengths to be sniffed at.

    Anyway, all that’s a long winded way of saying I agree with your comments and I’d quite like to see the film that inspired them.

    • March 30, 2011 at 9:21 am

      Indeed – the films, unless I’m mistaken, are all ‘Zoetrope’ productions and you can’t avoid the fact. So you can understand a certain level of resentment. In the end, you’ve got the films, and do they stand up? I would say so, thus far. Bill Murray, during the shoot for Lost In Translation, nearly walked at one point, and there’s a suggestion that he felt she didn’t have control of the film (and I might suggest our touching on nepotism might’ve been somewhat relevant here). She’s had problems borne out of all kinds of nonsense. But the films are, at their best, tremendous.

      I think her greatest skill is marrying pivotal moments with perect music, to make a fairly bland point, in terms of choosing absolutely spot-on music for certain moments in her films that become instantly iconic and crucial. I would kike to know if this is how her films come about, and whether the projects are built around these moments. I suspect so.

      Poor analogy alert (I can think of nothing better at this point in the day!): I think some films are like well-lit, well-designed rooms full of intriguing people that you can wander around in for an hour and a half, quietly, and get what you need from. I think Coppola’s are like that, in the same way that, to me, Cassavettes and Van Sant and Tarr and so on are.

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