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Wanting to be found
Hamdeli i is better than hamzabaani

By Anoosh Ariapour
October 8, 2003
The Iranian

Film: Lost in Translation
Stars: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson
Writer/Director: Sofia Coppola
Plot: Two Americans meet and spend a week in Tokyo

I was attracted to see this movie because of its title, naturally! Anything to do with language and cultural differences raises my ears and activates my nostrils to a level comparable to that of a bloodhound on the trail of a wounded pheasant. It is a professional translator's old habit.

The movie did not have much to say about the language or translation, and probably it should not have; those are subjects better handled in text, by linguists, culture vultures and novelists. In any case, one man's culture, is another man's cliché.

But I had to see the movie and not to forget how it is to survive the initial cultural shock of an alien culture, and the secondary shock and... just to survive all the mutual misunderstandings that people go through in a foreign land.

Sometimes, comprehension and tolerance toward an unfamiliar society seems impossible. We -- I am talking mostly of expatriates -- are not impassive, just thick-skinned. In the first page of Rushdie's Satanic Verses, among the items falling to the ground after a terrorist explosion of a passenger airliner in midair, are "Untranslatable jokes" of foreigners.

Sofia Coppola's film is a sweet, visual meditation, not so much on the meaning of life, from two different points along a parallel line, one from the beginning and one in the middle. Unlike in an Euclidean space, parallel lines do intersect at some point. Think of it as a roller coaster, a recreational geometry, or a Dadaistic railway going up and down, life is more like that.

Excellent art design blankets the lack of a good sound recording and engineering. If whispering is your thing, you got to have a better scheme.

Lost in Translation, is a testimony to Bill Murray's special place in the existential comedy. (His Groundhog Day, was a movie you could take an Einstein, or anyone interested in the concept of Time's Arrow, to see without embarrassment.) Bob (Bill Murray) has written a whole book on how to act as a middle-aged man, full of grace and decency. And Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) has grasped, as a philosophy major, the pith of an entire school of thought. To quote Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must be silent."

I did not feel that Lost In Translation, is a mockery or criticism of Japanese urbanity, manners or vulgarity. Catherine Lambert, looked like a Britney Spears with a bad stage name (Evelyn Waugh?).

Rumi said that empathy, hamdeli in Persian, is better than speaking the same language, hamzabaani. Bob's conversations with his wife over the phone, is a poor translation for the word "marriage". Lost In Translation's tagline poignantly resonates : Every one wants to be found.


Anoosh Ariapour is an Iranian born journalist based in Washington DC.

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