What to Drink While Watching Lost In Translation, Les 400 Coups and Imitation of Life


Heen says:


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You shouldn’t watch one film straight after another. Consequences: You will mix up the characters, the plot, everything.


I was feeling a bit off colour the other day and I decided to indulge in a triple movie viewing binge, starting late afternoon and finishing late evening. The films I opted for were Lost In Translation, Les 400 Coups and Imitation Of Life. It took me most of the morning to choose these films, so I would like to start this post by justifying my decision.


I saw Lost In Translation shortly after it was released. I had very little faith in Sofia Coppola but was a fan of Bill Murray. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, except in Japan, where the film bombed. Japanese critics slammed it for being offensive and it wasn’t hard for me to see why.


I saw Truffaut’s The 400 Blows absolutely ages ago, when I was a student. Rewatching it, I was amazed that I could remember so many scenes that I thought I’d forgotten. It is definitely a film that should NOT be forgotten, emblematic as it is of the Nouvelle Vague, nowadays rightly vindicated.


Imitation of Life used to be my least favourite Douglas Sirk film. A massive commercial success when it came out, it has been belittled ever since by just about everybody, and I was a bit uneasy about watching it again.


Lost In Translation was made in 2003. Les 400 Coups and Imitation Of Life were both made in 1959. Has film making improved since 1959? On the evidence of these three films, the answer is clearly not YES.


Sofia Coppola decides to do without a plot. OK, that’s fair enough, but she’s hardly Jean-Luc Godard, is she, and she relies too much on Bill Murray’s facial expressions and Shibuya landscapes. (Story line of Lost In Translation: boy meets girl in inhospitable surroundings; boy leaves; both upset; end of story).


Truffaut’s film has a flimsy plot, too: boy not happy at home; boy runs away.


Now. Which story is the viewer interested in? I was unable to sympathise with Johansson’s character; her husband is wrapped up in his work, so she drifts into Buddhist temples and swimming pools but mostly the hotel bar, never taking anything seriously, apparently feeling sorry for herself for no apparent reason.


Antoine’s character is in another galaxy. The way Truffaut describes this boy’s relationship with his parents is sublime – a careful combination of script, acting and editing that Ms Coppola could learn a lot from.


Imitation Of Life, in the best melodramatic tradition, doesn’t rely on succinct snatches of dialogue or anguished silences. Sirk has a big story to tell, and is dead set on blowing us away. Twenty years ago, I wasn’t blown away, but last week I was windswept, hurricaned, typhooned, nay, tsunamied. The plot is heavy; what starts out as a love story lurches into a grim and roaring tale of the human condition, sacrifice and redemption. It’s the kind of film Truffaut wouldn’t want to make and Coppola wouldn’t know how to.


Sofia Coppola tries to make a weepy. Truffaut aims at a rueful tear. Sirk says, “Cry, damn you!”


As I half-anticipated, I entangled the characters from the three films. Susie, as played by Sandra Dee in Imitation Of Life, was in a hotel in Tokyo. Sarah Jane, the black girl who pretends to be white, was a prostitute in Paris. Antoine somehow became Lana Turner’s boyfriend.


Douglas Sirk wouldn’t have known what to do with Bill Murray. François Truffaut would have despaired of Scarlett Johansson. Sofia Coppola manages to come up with a vaguely interesting film just by letting them get on with it.


As for liquid refreshment, it’s tempting to suggest whisky for Lost In Translation, rough table wine for Les 400 Coups and maybe Coca Cola for Imitation Of Life. So if you’re planning to watch these three films in one sitting, you may as well mix all three in a large bucket, add a few chunks of lemon and half a dozen ice cubes and call it “sangría”.


No. It’s better not to mix your movies. Definitely.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Crimzo VI on May 3, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    “Lost In Translation” is a nonsensical remake of the Russian film “Where The Hen Fainted”, directed in 1929 by Lev Zhounovski, all the more remarkable because Zhounovski’s son Alexei was an extra in “Les 400 Coups” (He was one of Antoine’s classmates) and his daughter-in-law Irina was the hairdresser’s assistant in “Imitation of Life”. I think I ought to point out at this point that my second cousin Vladimir’s ex-girlfriend Keiko used to hang out with Mihiro Nazawaki, step-sister of the girl who plays the part of the hotel recpetionist in “Lost In Translation”. My verdict: Douglas Sirk was probably gay.


  2. Posted by zaragozatwins on May 3, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    How much of your comment is true, I wonder? “Where The Hen Fainted” was made in 1939, not 1929 as you claim, and the story line is rather different – a Jew inherits a bacon factory and deceives everybody into believing that his porky products are really made from chicken – and I have no record that one “Alexei Zhounovski” appeared in “Les 400 Coups”. Futhermore, the surname “Nazawaki” is extremely rare in Japanese and as for Douglas Sirk being gay, well, I don’t see your point…? ———– Heen


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