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'Lost in Translation' is a poignant delight


Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation is really a throwback to the French New Wave -- two actors of immense charm, a confined setting and no plot as such, just a situation.

If it had been made in 1963 instead of 2003, it would have starred Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anouk Aimee.

It has an airy lightness to it in spite of the fact that it's about two people deeply alienated from their own lives. Truffaut would have loved it.

The film stays afloat largely because of the undertow of a teasing sense of sexual tension. Will they or won't they?

Bill Murray is one of those rare actors with whom the audience can instantly identify as well as read. In spite of his usually stolid, expressionless face, he has a thin emotional skin, and his disgust, confusion and joy are instantly ascertainable, regardless of the fact that his dialogue isn't eloquent.

As to whether Scarlett Johannson is the flavor of the month or at the edge of a remarkable acting career, only time will tell. (Mira Sorvino or Meryl Streep? Choose wisely, Ms. Johannson.)

Her performance is exceptional; carrying a conviction and a maturity far beyond her years. So, for that matter, does Sofia Coppola, whose ambiguous ending -- just what does Murray's character say to Johannson in the last scene? -- keeps you thinking as well as guessing. It's a film that gives you a sense of muted joy.

Disappointingly, the Lost in Translation DVD doesn't have a director's commentary, but it does have an introduction by Coppola and Murray and a half-hour documentary about the film's production that reveals a budget so low that Coppola and her crew were constantly stealing shots on the Tokyo streets without benefit of permits or police protection.

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