‘Lost in Translation’

Young Ms Sofia Coppola, 33 this year, sprig of a famous tree, has made a beautiful, understated, subtle, funny, touching film about a middle-aged American man and a beautiful, newly-married, young American woman, both lonely, kicking their heels in the alien world of Tokyo where you either feel threatened by the impenetrability of the local culture or you see the absurdity of your cultural isolation and laugh at it, as these two do.  Lost in Translation is special because it shows how the couple spend time together exploring Tokyo, experience the inevitable mutual attraction – but somehow buck the cliché and don’t go to bed together (well, actually they do, but they don’t have sex).  Ms Coppola pays us the compliment of not spelling out why they don’t have sex, allowing the reasons to shine out from the two outstanding performances (by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, both surely due for Oscars if there’s any justice in Tinseltown):  they know that there would be no future in a relationship that depends almost wholly on fleeting circumstances, shared reactions to a temporary situation;  the age difference between them is too great;  both are reasonably happily married and know they would regret even a one-off betrayal of their spouses;  sex would damage, not enrich, a hugely valued but ephemeral relationship.  When they reluctantly part, for ever, as they know they must, the tug at our emotions reminds us of the first time we saw Brief Encounter.  All of this, though, seems to have escaped the comprehension of J Hoberman, the film critic of the New York newspaper, Village Voice, quoted without apparent irony in the Guardian Friday Review (20 February 2004) as writing:  “Coppola evokes the emotional intensity of a one-night stand far from home – but what she really gets is the magic of movies.”  The whole point of the film is that the one-night stand which Hollywood cliché (“the magic of movies”) leads us to expect never happens.  Perhaps J Hoberman left half-way through the film.