Thursday, January 6, 2011

On Style: Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere"

David Denby's review of the film "Somewhere" (in The New Yorker Dec. 20 & 27) astutely points out the director Sofia Coppola's penchant for hotel-bound characters. But while Denby castigates Coppola for being "fixated on a single subject," it is worth considering another reoccurring theme in Coppola's films: the everyday phenomenon of sleep, in all its personal banalities and slow-time oddities. Recall Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson each trying to recalibrate and rest their weary, jet-lagged bodies in "Lost in Translation"; and Kirsten Dunst's attempts at sharing a bed with the wonderfully awkward Jason Schwartzman in "Marie Antoinette." (I need to see "Virgin Suicides" again to make sure, but I'm willing to bet that there are some rich scenes of somnolence therein.) Denby's review of "Somewhere" suggests that Coppola has continued to forward this anthropological study, with Stephen Dorff's character falling asleep constantly throughout the film. The fact is that Coppola brilliantly explores certain themes across very different film subjects.

Yet Denby seems to want Coppola to diversify, to expand her cinematic scope. Is this really a warranted critique? It would be silly to wish that Ernest Hemingway had done something other than continually describe war torn souls; nor would we ask Yiyun Li to stop writing about characters who are estranged and disoriented, either at home in China or transplanted in the U.S. Furthermore, if Mark Rothko created a series of color fields that strike the viewer in compelling ways, or if Tara Donovan makes similarly captivating installations out of range of disposable objects—art criticism is expected to treat with nuance what might at first glance seem to be pure repetition. Denby's review of "Somewhere" misses the mark concerning the style of the filmmaker. Sofia Coppola is an artist, not just an entertainer.