'Somewhere' creates rainbows from silences

Courtesy of Focus

By Jennifer Xu, Senior Arts Editor
Published March 13, 2011

Ah, “Somewhere” — the neglected stepchild of 2010. Upon winning a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Sofia Coppola’s (“Lost in Translation”) latest film amassed Oscar buzz for the entirety of three seconds, before being promptly set off to the side, forgotten.

Somewhere

At the Michigan
Focus

Perhaps it’s because nothing ever seems to happen in the film. One of its opening scenes presents three minutes of the waiflike Cleo (Elle Fanning, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) ice-skating in a blue dress — nothing else. No cuts away, no stuntwork. But there’s a strangely mesmerizing, almost hypnotic quality following Cleo’s every move, every bent knee. Her father, the jaded actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff, “Public Enemies”), looks up from his phone and it hits him what a flower his adolescent daughter has blossomed into — a ball of loneliness and pride wrapped into one.

Where “Somewhere” succeeds exquisitely is in communicating the language of temporality. Much of the film takes place inside the luscious, opulent Chateau Marmont Hotel — a languorous playground of a celebrity haunt where sin goes to bed with melancholy. In French, chateau means castle, and the term evokes a contained, Old World hollowness in which the kings have all died or become irrelevant.

Indeed, everything is synthetic here at the palace of the lost souls, even people. Marco, a Hollywood actor trapped in the perpetual state of waiting, falls asleep in the midst of watching a soporific striptease starring two bombshell blonde-headed pole dancers. He falls asleep again later that night, this time while administering oral sex to a different leggy young thing. When his daughter, the tall, willowy 12-year-old Cleo, decides to stay with him, Johnny needs to reprioritize. Cleo, more fairy sprite than an actual girl, brings to Johnny’s isolated universe a mystical world of underwater tea parties and room-service pancakes.

Critics may deride Coppola’s range. Why can’t she move on from her comfortable cocoon of navel gazing to something a smidge more dynamic? We want action, excitement, they cry. But the static, almost therapeutic ambience works for “Somewhere,” and whatever is left unsaid unlocks a chasm of introspection. It’s minimalism at its finest: The empty spaces are literally empty spaces. There are scenes seething with past memories of loneliness, repression, wanderlust — scenes that recall many a film in the Coppola discourse: Lux Lisbon’s lace collared dress blowing in the wind, Charlotte’s light pink briefs cradling her heart-shaped derriere, Marie Antoinette’s toppling pile of shoes, bouffants and bonbons.

“Somewhere” might only strike a chord among a select few, but for the patient, it can open petal by petal (to slightly rephrase ee cummings) an entire world. A silky tone poem saturated with an ennui as thick as the foggy, smoggy hills of Los Angeles, “Somewhere” bubbles with the most stirring ontological questions: What is real anymore? With all of the modern age’s reflective surfaces and transient promises of fame, how do we find the thing that is genuinely authentic? We can go from womb to tomb without ever touching the essential qualities of existence — but somehow, “Somewhere” can bring us closer to them.