The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Somewhere is easy to mock – but I liked it

with 14 comments

My local film club opened the autumn season with Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. The program committee seemed to have doubts about how it would be received. There was something apologetic about the way they presented it in the booklet:

“Somewhere starts with a Ferrari driving round after round on a deserted race track, after which a man is dozing on a bed while two hired strippers are performing their mechanical dance routine. This is all we see during the first fifteen minutes of the movie. Either you’ll shake your head disapprovingly at the slow pace already here or you’ll adjust your heartbeat, sink into the atmosphere and start to see the world through the fading action actor Johnny Marco’s eyes”.

A slow movie
I considered myself warned and expected the worst, so when we left the racing track after only a few minutes, I was a bit surprised it was already over. But basically they’re right about the pace.

Somewhere IS a very slow movie, and while I nurse a deep hatred for judgments such as “like watching paint dry”, which IMDB users toss at every movie anywhere slower than James Bond, the label is quite relevant this time.

On one occasion we get to spend at least a minute staring at Johnny as he’s had his face covered with a paste in order to make a mask. Everything is covered apart from his nostrils. Nothing happens. We watch the paint dry and we listen to his breathing. Did I hear him breathe a little bit faster towards the end? Or was it just my imagination starting to play tricks with me?

I know some people don’t like my favourite movie Lost in Translation very much, slowness being one of their major complaints. But Lost in Translation is nothing compared to Somewhere, in terms of slowness. And it had way more interaction between the actors. People were speaking to each other. Johnny in Somewhere doesn’t say very much at all.

Most of the time we just follow him walking around, looking lost in his world of fame and wealth, a life most people only could dream of. Not even the gorgeous women who throw themselves into his arms wherever he goes give him pleasure. It’s the ultimate boredom. When he by circumstances is forced to spend some time with his daughter, you would expect this to stir up something, but the changes are very subtle. His imprisoned artificial life goes on as always, in hotel rooms, at marketing events for his movies and in beds with women whose name he doesn’t bother to learn.

Easy to mock
This movie is definitely not for everyone and it’s an easy target for mocking and harsh criticism. My favorite reviewer Mark Kermode absolutely hated it and did a genuinely highly entertaining rant about it.

But even if it was funny to listen to, I actually disagree. While I don’t think Somewhere is as good as Lost in Translation, I liked it a lot.

Once you get used to the pace of it you can start noticing details. Not much is said, not much is going on, but this also leaves you room to think for yourself and ponder what’s happening inside his head. What is he thinking under that mask, breathing through the nostrils? Is he thinking at all? Or is he just seeing life passing him by? And why did he end up like that? Like Marie Antoinette he’s surrounded by luxury and yet he can’t sense the taste of it anymore. For how unlikable he is as a person, I feel myself pulled into his head, starting to see the world through his eyes. Being Johnny Marco, without the sudden exit on the motor way.

The encounter with his daughter could easily have been turned into something unbearably predictable in the hands of a different writer and director. I can picture how the standard Hollywood take on this story would look. After going through a few incidents, clashing with his daughter, Johnny would step by step learn about what real life should be like and after a big turning point – maybe she’d get cancer or get overrun by a car and die – he would  – whoppy doo – quit acting and become a soup kitchen volunteer. Every Christmas he’d brush off his old skills, putting on a beard to amuse the children. He’d be poor but live happy for the rest of his life, finally free from the chains of greed and egoism. THE END.

But Coppola didn’t do this in Lost in Translation and she doesn’t do it in Somewhere either, and that’s what’s so wonderful about her movies. The story does take a turn one way or another eventually. Without giving any details I found it satisfying and uplifting with a just a pinch of sugar, not an overdose.

Repetition?
You could ask the question if Coppola is repeating herself. A rich and famous actor who is lost in life spends his days in a hotel where he’s alienated from the world and himself until he meets someone and he slowly starts to spot a connection and get in touch with the ground. We’ve seen it before, in Lost in Translation. However, I don’t consider the resemblance a problem.

Sofia Coppola is not the only artist to get back to certain themes. Rembrandt too painted himself over and over again, and believe me, and when I saw all those portraits assembled at one exposition in Netherlands some years ago, I didn’t think “crap, why is he repeating himself, I’d rather just see one of them”. I started to notice and appreciate the differences and think about how they corresponded to each other.

I think Somewhere made a wonderful season start for my movie club. When we’ll reach the end of the autumn, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be one of my favorites.

Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, US, 2010) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

September 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Somewhere

14 Responses

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  1. I’m a big fan of Sofia Coppola’s work and went into this movie not expecting much seeing how it had bad reviews. I was pleasantly surprised after watching it, it’s a very good movie.

    Coppola’s movies aren’t so much about story as they are pictures of different people. Her films breath a melancholy atmosphere wherein her actors float. And we’re drawn into it ourselves for just a short period of time.

    The movie did remind me of the series Californication. There Duchovny is a famous, big-mouth writer who has women for the picking. But once he’s with his daughter he turns into an awesome father, including a scene where they both play guitar hero…

    I didn’t find the movie to be slow going either. Last night I watched Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Somewhere is a Ferrari compared to that movie.

    Carra

    September 14, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    • It’s been ages since I watched Stalker. All I can recall from it is that I liked it a lot. And I liked the sci-fi book it’s based on. Picnic by the wyside or something like that, if I don’t mismind me. I really need to revisit it and see if I still like it. Somehow I think my tolerence for really slow stuff was higher when I was younger. I read a lot of heavy literature when I was 17, which I wouldn’t dream of open volontarily nowadays…. I guess my brain is aging. 😉

      Jessica

      September 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm

  2. Nice job with this post. I caught up with Somewhere on DVD a little while back and enjoyed it. I’d heard a lot about how slow it is, but it didn’t bother me. I agree that it’s not as sharp as Lost in Translation and some of the themes are hit on the head (driving in circles, the make-up scene showing how he’s just a prop). Still, the actors (especially Elle Fanning) are excellent, and it’s short in an interesting way. I think this is the case where some reviewers and commenters are responding to what they wanted the movie to be rather than what it is.

    Dan Heaton

    September 14, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    • Thank you. I’m glad you liked it too. And yes, I think some of the critique is a bit unfair. I can’t help wondering if there’s some sort of backlash going on there? Envy, whatever. People thinking Coppola has had it a bit too smooth and easy thanks to her family background.

      Jessica

      September 15, 2011 at 12:20 am

  3. Having been versed in minimalist filmmaking and Italian cinema as well as being a big Sofia Coppola fan, I knew this film wasn’t going to be liked by everyone. I went in with no expectations and it’s still my favorite film of 2010 so far.

    For me, it’s Sofia being confrontational in her own terms about the idea of traditional narrative and character study. She just prefers to let things happen as if we’re watching this man starting to feel bored by his lifestyle and the things around him.

    People will compare this to not just Lost in Translation but all of her films. The major difference is that it’s more stripped down. Especially compared to the more fact-based and large production scale of Marie Antoinette.

    The opening scene is really a form of metaphorical cinema as it’s a way for Sofia to introduce not just our protagonist but also what his life is like.

    This film is in consideration to be of my Favorite Films essay project. I’ll probably do it later in the year but there’s another film I want to do at around October. There’s a lot to be said about this and it’s a film that has not escaped my mind. I’m a bit disappointed with the DVD and having to spend $20 for a film with only decent special feature. Still, it’s a film I enjoy.

    Steven Flores

    September 14, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    • It’s very stripped down indead. I think it’s interesting how it relates to her other movies. Similar, connected themes, but told in slightly different ways. I’m really glad you loved it so much and it would be wonderful to read a longer essay about it. The reviews I’ve read so far have mostly been negative and more mocking than insightful.

      Jessica

      September 15, 2011 at 12:23 am

  4. Interestingly I have had this in a pile of films to watch, but it keeps getting passed by as I have read little praise for it at all. It is nice to read something quite different and I may even pick up my copy and slot it into the player now…..

    🙂

    Scott Lawlor

    September 15, 2011 at 10:50 am

    • Please do! I’d love to hear your take on it! Even if you may end up on the other side of the fence. 😉
      This seems to be one of those movies that you other love or hate.

      Jessica

      September 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

  5. I LOVE this movie. I think it’s absolutely brilliant, and it is exactly the kind of film I crave. I think it’s Coppola’s best film, and I’ve seen it several times. I was shocked when I heard there were people who disliked it. I think it’s a beautiful film.

    Tyler

    September 17, 2011 at 5:38 am

    • Oh! A comment I had missed to reply to. That’s bad of me. Anyway: I’m glad you too are a fan!

      Jessica

      November 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm

  6. I like the point you make about the film giving room for us to think. I enjoyed that quality of the pacing and the lack of need to overload the narrative with details. To me it’s when you have an effective horror film and you don’t get to see the monster. The monster then becomes more horrifying because of your imagination, than anything the filmmaker could show you. With “Somewhere” it’s a kind of exercise in negative space.

    HolidayRob

    November 27, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    • The comparsion to a horror movie surprised me a bit, but I think it’s a good one.

      Jessica

      November 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm

  7. […] Somewhere – Slow? Definitely. But I really dig Sophia Coppola. […]

  8. […] about someone in show business. But I think it has a lot more in common with Sophia Coppola’s Somewhere from the same year. Stephen Dorff’s character left everything and walked out to the desert; […]


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