December 24, 2010

Sofia Coppola, revered for her ability to carefully craft a beautiful visual (most often over a story about an individual detached from their environment), has created yet another visually stunning film covering startlingly similar, yet still distinct, subject matter. Her latest film, Somewhere (2010), focuses on a fittingly washed-up and all together empty stunt-man/actor in LA. Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), cares little about anything other than booze, women and to a lesser degree, fame. But when his eleven-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) turns up on his hotel door-step he is forced to take a quite literal look in the mirror to see if he can face the challenges of fatherhood, or, in the very least, the mere sight of himself.

Opening with a drawn-out static look at part of a race track where a black Ferrari intermittently speeds past, Somewhere establishes that location is not important and that our protagonist lives life in a quite literal “fast lane”. From here, the film follows a slow week or so in Johnny’s life (the exact period is inconsequential as Coppola is clearly interested in distilling time to mirror the listlessness of her central character), where he reveals himself to be just as uninteresting as the visual of his car repeatedly and pointlessly driving cyclically by.

Receiving occasional anonymous text messages that ask questions akin to “Why are you such an asshole?”, we are to take from this film that Johnny’s conscience, and possibly even his subconscious, are finally catching up with him. Unsurprisingly this is explored through a popular, technological medium seeing as he is – once again and all together now – detached from humanity, included in that, himself.

Whilst there are wonderful formal moments within in the film, including a sound scape so crisp that you can literally hear the embers of a cigarette catch light as it is inhaled, these moments feel artificial. And they continue to fail to pierce the viewer, resulting in an experience that provides ultimate appreciation for craft but remains unaffecting on either emotional or cognitive levels, rendering the film passive in reception.

The sadness and superficiality of the strip-teases he repeatedly pays to fall asleep whilst watching, contrasted with the warmth and natural affection of his time spent with his daughter, is all too easy and forces the viewer to “watch” rather than “engage” with the content of the film. Far from fond of Sofia Coppola’s oeuvre for its preferencing of style over, or rather in place of, substance, Somewhere is yet another film that demonstrates remarkable technical craftsmanship but leaves very little (much like her subjects) to be desired. But perhaps this is her intention and the absolute lack of engaging content is her way of demonstrating the full extent of the vacuity of her subjects. Either way, the film invites a passive rather than active cognitive viewing process and as such communicates its vapid intent far too entirely.

Somewhere is released in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day, Sunday December 26, through Universal Pictures.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.


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