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Thread: SOMEWHERE (Sofia Coppola 2010)

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    SOMEWHERE (Sofia Coppola 2010)

    Sofie Coppola: SOMEWHERE (2010)
    Review by Chris Knipp


    ELLE FANNING AND STEPHEN DORFF IN SOMEWHERE

    Last days in the air conditioned nightmare

    Many who revile America's cult of celebrity and the pampering of Hollywood stars will view with contempt this movie by Sofia Coppola. Her theme may seem narrow. But it's one many are curious about, and more than we realize experience. Uselessness and loneliness are part of modern urban life at many levels. And this is a filmmaker, as even her enemies acknowledge, who knows whereof she speaks. Here, Coppola, herself a child of Hollywood celebrity, has made a song of anomie, a Somewhere that's virtually nowhere even if its protagonist is Somebody. At the center of his air conditioned nightmare, living at the cool (as in hip) Beverly Hills celebrity hotel, the Chateau Marmont, is Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff, restrained and sympathetic), a young movie star between jobs. He parties and drinks a little too much, breaks his arm and pretends to his ex-wife that he did it doing his own stunts. He gets laid whenever he wants to, but he receives insulting text messages like "You're such an asshole," or "You think you're hot s--t." He drives around in his black Ferrari, around and around and around in the opening sequence, on a barren desert course. The engine is racing, but there's no destination.

    Finally Marge (Amanda Anka), the ex-wife, announces she's going away for an indefinite period of time and leaves their 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning, light as air) with him, till he takes her to a summer camp. Used to the amusements and longeurs of the privileged, a skillful ice skater and ballet dancer and swimmer with a quick smile, Cleo is a very poised girl, but she cries on the way to camp, because Johnny is never around and now her mother is gone and she doesn't know if she's coming back. Johnny's cast is off, and, relieved of caring for Cleo, he heads out for an existential Nowhere.

    Comparisons with the art of Antonioni may seem an exaggeration, though from the first car sequence with its disassociation of sound Antonioni is indeed evoked, and so is Fellini very much evoked by the random parties, the excited sycophants, the meaningless chatter, the glitzy Italian television event that makes no sense, and the helicopter waiting out of nowhere. If this is Antonioni or Fellini, they've been memorized, assimilated and forgotten and it's unjust to call this movie derivative. Comparisons even with Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation are misplaced. Yes, there is the isolation in a hotel, the comedy of celebrity-handlers, and the father-daughter theme. But Somewhere is more real and physical, as far as Bill Murray is from Stephen Dorff. Dorff, seen often with shirt off, is buff and physical. Instead of Murray's slack, ironic face, there is the light, bright voice of a people-pleaser and a face that is a little ravaged from smoking and partying too much but also sweet, pretty, and still innocent. (Maybe Sofia is a Tarantino, reviving Dorfff's career and qualifying him for subtle roles as partly Lost in Translation revived Murray's and ranked him among the most trend-setting of actors.)

    There is a homage to Antoinioni that emerges in Somewhere's different management of time. Johnny experiences a series of events or non-events, which he is not even prepared for. He has to take Cleo to Milan with him because she's in his care and his movie is opening there. They are chauffeured to the five-star Hotel Principe di Savoia, to a luxurious suite with its own swimming pool, with murals that look like Pompeii. Cleo swims back and forth in it, but posh though it is, the pool is like a fish pond. None of this is determined by Johnny. His life is an exercise in passivity. It's fine, it's fun, but it's unrewarding. I wished Johnny had a chance to talk to James Franco. He should enroll in three universities. He'd have fun between acting jobs! But of course that would make a different story, a manic, goofy one. Johnny is the most classic American movie star Somebody, the kind who's a Nobody, out of Nowhere, with no resources.

    Pauline Kael expressed impatience with "Sick Soul of Europe" movies and this is a Sick Soul of Hollywood one. But Sofia Coppola is neither "the authentic Little Focker" and "mirthless Hollywood hack" as Armond White brutally calls her, reviewing this movie, nor does this film possess quite the brilliance and perfection the New York Times' A.O. Scott attributes to it. The truth is, Coppola is a filmmaker of considerable originality and talent. Everything she does has class. But her work has the stunted quality of the exotic hothouse flowers she describes.

    The achievement of Somewhere is that after a while it makes you feel genuinely uneasy. Her Johnny Marco -- Dorff himself used in the film passively, made to sit for 40 minutes in a plaster face cast to age him fifty years, and made to lie in a Chateau Marmont bed smiling while bad blonde twin pole dancers perform for him to a boom box -- is a man trapped in an airconditioned nightmare. But it doesn't look cold and empty like Bill Murray's Tokyo hotel. It's a deceptively friendly, easy, sunny place with light and air where everybody calls him "Johnny." That's the nightmare of California. Being alone surrounded by people who call you "Johnny" and wish you a nice day, who make you realize that despite all the smiles and the stroking there's no there there, either outside you or inside you. This is a companion piece for Gus Van Sant's Last Days.

    Sofia Coppola's Somewhere won the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice International Film Festival. It opened its limited US theatrical release Dec. 22, 2010 and in the UK Dec. 10.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-23-2010 at 11:20 PM.

  2. #2
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    Here is my review

    SOMEWHERE

    Directed by Sofia Coppola, U.S. (2010), 97 minutes

    “We have become so alienated from ourselves that when our true self reveals itself, it seems like an alien to us.” - Terrence McKenna

    In Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, actor Johnny Marco (Srephen Dorff), engages in one meaningless activity after another, then it is quickly forgotten. Though not in touch with the Buddhist concept of impermanence being an instrument to achieve a liberating insight, through a growing connection with his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), he slowly becomes aware that his life has been, in the words of author Samuel Beckett, a thing “where true light never was, nor any upright thing, nor any true foundation.” As an actor, Marco is a Hollywood star caught in the trappings of celebrity. In a culture in which celebrities are often elevated to the level of gods, he experiences every minute of the pleasure it offers, but enjoys none of it.

    Johnny lives at the Chateau Marmont, a West Hollywood hotel frequented by celebrities. Everything is at his disposal – a fawning staff, available women, all the amenities he could possibly want. He is near everything but close to nothing. Distracted by the “stuff” of his life - the phone calls from his agent, interviews, press conferences, publicity trips, text messages, and so forth, he is unable to realize how emotionally numb he has become. Adhering to the Buddhist saying, “Do not speak- unless it improves on silence,” there is no dialogue for the first ten minutes of the film. In the opening sequence, Johnny drives his black Ferrari around a circular track four or five times as Coppola makes the point abundantly clear that he is going nowhere fast. The film then shifts to a hotel room where he lies sprawled on his bed watching pole dancing twins perform their sexual routine, but it is so unstimulating that he falls asleep and the girls leave.

    Johnny’s stupor is interrupted when his ex-wife Marge (Amanda Anka) suddenly appears in his hotel room. She tells him that she needs to go away for a while and asks him to look after their 11-year old daughter Cleo and to make sure that she gets to summer camp on time. Though there is no back story in their relationship, Johnny is now required to pay close attention to Cleo and is forced to question his lifestyle and face up to his responsibilities as a father. Cleo is bright, attractive, and mature and one of the few women in the film that is not a stereotype. When he is with her, a different picture of Johnny emerges. He is tender and caring as he watches her skillful ice skating with great pride.

    They go swimming together and he takes her to Milan where they stay at the luxurious Hotel Principe di Savoia, exposing her to directly experience her father’s celebrity status. Cleo is a passive observer as her father is constantly being approached by would be actors, hangers on, and women seeking sex. She watches as he has to answer silly questions at a press conference and attends a gala event where her father is honored but left standing awkwardly on stage with a mike in his hand as voluptuous girls dance around him. Although Cleo does not say anything when one of her dad’s trysts shows up at their breakfast table, the look on her face speaks volumes.

    One of the most telling scenes is when Johnny has a mask made of his face to play an elderly man. He must sit in one position for forty five minutes, his head covered with a plaster cast, just sitting and breathing in a Zen-like ritual where his attention, perhaps for the first time, is on just being without having to do anything. When he is with his daughter, Johnny seems alive, but it is only after she leaves for camp that he is overwhelmed by sadness, telling his ex-wife on the phone that he is “nothing, not even a person.”

    Unlike Coppola’s film Lost in Translation, ennui is not the only possible outcome and the characters experience something deeper about themselves.As the philosopher Plato put it, “When human capacity is stretched to the limit, a spark of understanding and intelligence flashes out and illuminates the subject at issue.” With the insight that he is nothing, Johnny is open to the realization that, in fact, he is not only some thing, but a thinking, feeling being, larger than just a person to be manipulated. Winner of the 2010 Golden Lion in Venice, Somewhere is film of observation and nuance, a unique character study with a core of conviction and authenticity, perhaps mirroring Coppola’s own experience of growing up in a celebrity household. Though the pace is slow, it is a compelling and moving experience, one that is filled with the joy of discovery.

    GRADE: A
    Last edited by Howard Schumann; 01-20-2011 at 08:19 PM.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  3. #3
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    I'm glad you liked it, as did I, though I'm not sure I'd go along with some of your interpretations. It would be nice if this goes beyond LOST IN TRANSLATION. For me it definitely does.

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    Which?

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Knipp View Post
    I'm glad you liked it, as did I, though I'm not sure I'd go along with some of your interpretations. It would be nice if this goes beyond LOST IN TRANSLATION. For me it definitely does.
    What interpretations would you not go along with?
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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    As to what Johnny is moving toward.

    But we agree on responding to the film and the "makeup" aging mask certainly is one of the subtly telling moments that you are right to point to especially, I'm sure.

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    Johnny

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Knipp View Post
    As to what Johnny is moving toward.

    But we agree on responding to the film and the "makeup" aging mask certainly is one of the subtly telling moments that you are right to point to especially, I'm sure.
    I'd be interested in hearing what you think Johnny is moving towards. I realize the ending is open to interpretation.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  7. #7
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    I don't know what he's moving towards. It's open ended.

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