Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Somewhere (2010) – Review

Somewhere is an art film at heart. It is more interested in the impact of scenes and images cut together than narrative or plot, and in that way it is about the montage, the juxtaposition of these images and scenes similar to a film like Dziga Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera. Director Sofia Coppola structures the film to be a series of absurd or mundane activities in the life of movie star Johnny Marco (a little bit like parts of Lost in Translation). The opening scene is a testament to the style of film it is – a long take of part of a racetrack with a car driving around the track for a few laps being off-screen most of the time. Those looking for action or Hollywood imposed narrative structure, this shot alone (or Coppola’s filmography) will alert you to the fact that this scoffs at manufactured emotion. Rather, the emotional impact of this film is derived through the journey and connection the audience goes through and has partaking in bits of Marco’s life. Sure, the film has a rough plot and is not totally abstract, but that is not the point at all. This film feels real, as if watching a live-in camera crew’s video of their time with Marco. Coppola is not afraid to show the viewer everything (certain scenes and images are boring or incredibly banal, but as part of the montage elicit meaning), resulting in a deeper understanding of the character. Other than Marco and his daughter Cleo, all the other characters briefly float by not leaving much, simulating in a sense the relationships Marco has with these characters – only really seeming to care about his daughter – everyone else is fake or just a product of his fame or lifestyle. If anything, this film harshly criticizes Hollywood, as much of Marco’s life and experiences seem vague and not grounded in any sort of reality or meaning, and all the people that inhabit the world are mere shells filling socially dictated roles. The film plays like a breakup letter to Hollywood, showing the allure and ultimately the emptiness leading to the withdrawal and sadness. Coppola has also made a very touching and beautiful father-daughter piece. The scenes between Marco and Cleo highlight the film and feel real. While Somewhere will certainly not appeal to a large portion of the average movie-going population, it is a wonderful film that attacks the myth of Hollywood exposing it as shallow and soul-sucking.

Technical and acting achievements: Sofia Coppola is an auteur. And while she has only made one great film, this being her fourth, Somewhere is probably her second best, each striving for visual and emotional connection over plot and story structure. She is one of the few well known indy-directors to stick to her style and love and make the films she wants to make, and not necessarily the films studios want her to make or big productions (not that there is anything wrong with that either, there are a few examples of auteur directors making fantastic big films this year). The film succeeds both due to Coppola’s directing and its performances but also and importantly due to the cinematography of Harris Savides and the editing of Sarah Flack. Savides’s naturalist lighting and look assists Coppola’s narrative in its connection with the audience and in feeling real. Flack, who often collaborates with Coppola, does fine work, which is really the cornerstone for a montage-based film such as this prevailing. Anne Ross’s production design also feels very realistic, only adding the authenticity of Coppola’s film and emotional journey. The French indy-rock group Phoenix scored the film (their first film score). Their work is great in parts, but is overshadowed by the look of the film and the performances. The film’s stars are its two primary actors Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning. Both are magnificent and their chemistry makes this film and their scenes a treat (I think Fanning gives a breakout performance).

Somewhere un-bashfully besmirches the Hollywood lifestyle (and rightly so), but also is heartfelt and touching. 7/10

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