Monday, June 21, 2004

"I think I'm turning Japanese... or Portuguese... I really think so"

Yesterday I saw Lost in Translation, the film which was up for so many awards at the Oscars earlier this year. We saw it down at the Prince Charles, which although it used to be relatively cheap, seems to be getting more expensive.

So what to say about this Bill Murray/Scarlett Johansson vehicle? The soundtrack was good, especially Air's atmospheric contribution at the beginning and end - really suitable for emphasising the sense of bewilderment and confusion which anyone arriving in a strange place feeling jetlagged will recognise.

Some nice shots of Tokyo's urban landscape, its contrast with the idyllic rural locations of Kyoto and Mount Fuji and the flashing neon signs from the back seat of a car - or even reflected in its windows.

But it could have done with being half an hour shorter. And I trembled with anticipation all the way through - not because of the developing love story between Murray and Johansson , but rather against it.

There were some good observations on a long term marriage going stale and frustration and confusion about not knowing what to do in life. And I wish the director, Sofia Coppola, had left it there. But it veered dangerously close to boy (but actually man-old-enough-to-be-her-father) meets young girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Live happily ever after. The end.

The tension was just about right initially - Johansson was sharp and Murray's equal, but then Coppola bottled it, giving us the Hollywood treatment. We're supposed to forget Murray's haggard look, Johansson ceases to be intelligent and a woman with her own mind. She starts to cast longing looks and simpering, laughing at everything he says. How many Hollywood producers - many of them around Murray's age - would have felt their egos stroked at that portrayal?

A profound film? Perhaps in Hollywood circles it is. No wonder the backslapping at the Oscars earlier this year. But was it really? Well, not really. Coppola could have made it more so, but she decided to turn what was an interesting subject into a conventional love story about half way through.

On a more positive note though, the Portugal-Spain game was a pleasure to watch. Not so much for the scrappy first half, where there seemed to be a lack of openings. Rather, it was the setting we were in. There are a number of Portuguese cafes down in Battersea and Lambeth.

But surely it can't get better than the Costa do Estoril cafe on Lavender Hill, where over a few beers, a steak, egg and chips, we watched the Portuguese triumph over the Spanish 1-0, following it all on Portuguese TV. If that's how they celebrate reaching the quarter-finals, God knows what it will be like if they actually win the thing!

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