Sofia Coppola's journey to Somewhere

New film works with a patient and observational style

In every conceivable way, Somewhere represents a scaling back. Costuming was essentially a subplot in Marie Antoinette. In Somewhere, Dorff has exactly three looks: a tuxedo in one scene, a post-shower towel in a couple of them, and a T-shirt and jeans through the rest of the film. And while the Chateau may be exclusive, it's hardly Versailles—Somewhere's production design aimed to present it with as little gloss as possible.

"When you make a movie, the attitude generally is just bring everything—every light, every stand, every tool, every lens—because that's just kind of the culture of movies," Roman Coppola says. "The vibe of Sofia's movie was one of being really intimate, and so we didn't want all that stuff, all the extra people and all the extra tools. If a guy had to ash his cigarette, he would just use the ashtray that was there, and if not he would just use the glass from the kitchen cupboard, and if not he'd just ash out the window. That was the attitude: Naturalistic, authentic to that place."

But the biggest point of departure may be Somewhere's soundtrack. Marie Antoinette essentially plays out as a series of music videos set to period-imperfect source cues from Adam Ant and the Strokes. That sensibility—MTV-influenced, but personal—has long been a Sofia Coppola trademark, dating back to the montages set to Heart singles in Virgin Suicides. Somewhere is short on both music and montage. It's the first Sofia Coppola film that prizes natural sound over an artfully chosen, hipster-baiting soundtrack.

A supremely confident director: Coppola on the set of Somewhere
courtesy of Universal Pictures
A supremely confident director: Coppola on the set of Somewhere
The flip side of the "Hollywood lifestyle": Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
courtesy of Universal Pictures
The flip side of the "Hollywood lifestyle": Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning

"I was getting kind of tired of movies that just have pop song after pop song as the score—I did that before," Sofia says.

  

SOMEWHERE IS A FILM that asks us to pay non-withering attention to the ennui of the beautiful, rich, and famous, made by a woman who is beautiful, rich, and second-generation famous. That alone is enough to inspire knee-jerk negative reactions. When Somewhere won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival in September, some journalists cried foul at the fact that the jury for the prize included Quentin Tarantino, whom Coppola dated briefly after divorcing Jonze and before taking up with Mars. (Sofia jokes that she would have assumed her past relationship with Tarantino would be a handicap, not a help.) Coppola also has been accused of treading familiar ground: the story of a man at a crisis point, who has a relationship with a female 25 years his junior—in a luxury hotel? Again?

It's fair to point to Somewhere's resemblance to Lost in Translation, but the similarities between the films needn't be pejorative. Both films deal with a very specific side effect of fame: the loneliness of being wanted by strangers and yet having no one to talk to. Translation leavens that loneliness with wry comedy and by offering its sad actor the hope of a quasi-romance. There's very little comedy in Somewhere, and in the world it describes, romantic relationships don't exist; women offer Johnny only easy sex and angry texts. If Johnny's complicated relationship with his preteen daughter is a temporary comfort, it's also a reminder of his inability to sustain a connection or make a commitment of any kind.

In both films, the big event is that the characters, self-obsessed and wound too tight, lose themselves in a moment that can't be sustained. Lost in Translation's Rorschach-blot conclusion may be ambiguous, but it's undeniably exhilarating. At Somewhere's equally enigmatic end, Johnny makes a Big, Symbolic, Potentially Life-Changing Gesture—but for the moment, more than ever, he's rootless and utterly alone. The parallels between the two films point to their key difference: Sofia Coppola's increasingly mature point of view.

  

WITH NO PERMANENT residence in L.A., Coppola, Mars, and their kids have been living at the hotel while promoting Somewhere. But change is in the air. In a few days the family will head up to Napa for Christmas. After that, Sofia will start to think about her next project. In an echo of her film's highly symbolic ending, she tells me she's just let go of one major tie to L.A. "I had an old Jaguar, and I recently sold it," she says, wistfully.

Is it a sign that she's decisively put Los Angeles in her rearview mirror, so to speak? If so, she isn't letting go completely. She smiles, almost conspiratorially.

"I sold it to a friend."

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