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How Sofia Coppola redefined the indie drama

In summer 2003, just 13 years after director Francis Ford Coppola concluded his aria of human suffering with The Godfather Part III, his daughter Sofia dialled back the opulence and opera to create a more lo-fi form of film experience. Sofia Coppola brought a more understated, balanced perspective to the otherwise male dominated arena, creating a softer, more elegiac work in which viewers could be seduced into.

Her rationale was simple: She wanted to treat female viewers with the same tact and respect male directors offered their audiences. “I just feel like I have a feminine point of view and I’m happy to put that out there. We certainly have enough masculine ones,” she said. “I never felt like I had to fit into the majority view. Maybe growing up with so many strong men around me meant I felt, I don’t know, closely connected to being feminine. I mean in my first movie I felt like making something for teenage girls. I looked at the movies they made for teenage girls and thought: why can’t they have beautiful photography? Why shouldn’t we treat that audience with respect? That was something I missed when I was that age: I wished the movies weren’t so condescending. So I guess I’ve always just made the films that I’d have wanted to see.”

Lost in Translation was the first time Sofia aimed her craft at men, as well as women, but the film doesn’t cater to one gender at the expense of the other. Instead, it’s a film about deep loneliness: A film that was denser- for Bill Murray fans, that is – and more forlorn than the indie dramas mainstream audiences were used to in the early millennium.

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Coming after the turbo-charged films of the 1990s, Lost in Translation was as much a shock for audiences as it was for the central characters who were unable to communicate their innermost desires and thoughts to the public at large. With the heft of a vulnerable leading performance from Murray, not forgetting Scarlett Johannson in her pre-Marvel fame, the industry invariably changed to fit in her voice: a more sombre and serious look at relationships to the portentousness of The Godfather series.

Indeed, Lost in Translation personifies the anxiety felt by most ex-pats in another continent, particularly in one that doesn’t speak their language. Murray embodies the lowly, lonely traveller in the middle of personal angst, searching for a country or a person to offer him forgiveness.

Even 19 years later, the performance holds tremendous pathos, especially on the heels of a two-year pandemic that locked citizens in their homes, far from the comforts of their friends and their colleagues. The loneliness during the pandemic led many to doubt their salvation in the countries that was supposed to serve and protect them. Lost in Translation demonstrates the lingering sense of frailty in the world, embodying a certain fatalism that sticks onto the audience, long after the credits have rolled.

But for all its darkness and far-reaching sensibilities, Lost in Translation isn’t entirely free from the trappings of grandeur. The film is filled with lush texture, curating a view of Tokyo that demonstrates the romance, rigour and regulations that funnels the city on a day to day basis.

Sofia Coppola can’t help letting the camera race along with the vehicles, invoking the urgency of the area, and some of the shots capture the splendour her father reserved for the Italy he feared society was quickly rejecting.

But the film is mostly focused on the never-ending feeling of loneliness, as tourists realise that they have to put their differences aside, in the hope of gaining some sort of connection. And unlike the films her father spearheaded, Sofia Coppola decides to keep the film to a more watchable length, as the film closes after a tidy 102 minutes of length.

There is no luxuriant wedding to speak of, nor is there a dynamic montage that seals its lead character on the direction he had spent a lifetime fighting against. Instead, what we get is a poetry of a more contemporary kind. It’s less the glorious capabilities of cinema, but shows what indie directors can achieve, provided the artist and the script are in perfect tandem.

The narrative beats have emotional, as opposed to stylistic, properties, as the lines have radiance, instead of padding. And in its own way, the film is as mindful of the character’s journey as her father was for Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II. What it proved was that there were two brilliant directors in the Coppola clan: One could create an epic that could withstand the change of tone and texture, and the other could show there was power to the process of withdrawal and weariness.

Stream the trailer for Lost in Translation below.