Monday, September 8, 2014

Venice Film Festival - Cat Bauer's Top 10 & George Clooney gets Married in Venice

Amal Alamudden & George Clooney
(Venice, Italy) Some reports complained about the lack of Hollywood shazam at this year's Venice Film Festival. No worries -- I think the star power that will soon descend on the Venetian lagoon will boil the waters when George Clooney marries Amal Alamudden here in Venice.

Roy Andersson with Golden Lion Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images
The Swedes have already infilitrated our homes by way of IKEA. Now, in addition to Electrolux buying GE, the Swedes also soared this week by winning the Golden Lion for "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence," by Roy Andersson. I was initially intrigued by this film, but eventually walked out in frustration a bit more than halfway through. To me, it belongs in the theater, not on the big screen. It needs a live audience living in-the-moment to really pull off what it's trying to accomplish, which was brilliant, but film is the wrong medium. Obviously, my opinion is in the minority. 

In eleven or so days, I saw 22 feature films, and more than half of 4 others. That is an intense amount of film watching. The wonderful thing about the Venice Film Festival is that we get to see films from every corner of the planet, films that people have literally risked their lives to make. It really puts things into perspective, and it is a great honor to watch history in the making. 

Iranian filmmaker Rakhshan Bani-Etemad wins Best Screenplay for TALES
I lived in Hollywood for about 20 years. I love Hollywood movies because I like the structure, which is based on the Hero's Journey. At this year's festival, I saw a movie I had not planned to see simply because I went early to get a seat for the Paoslini and Burying the Ex press conferences, and stumbled into the press conference for Theeb. On the panel were a group of Bedouins, part of an Arabian tribe who lives in the desert. I was fascinated and went to see the film. It was truly a Hero's Journey told through the eyes of a young boy. When the film was over, Theeb got a 10-minute standing ovation. It also won the Best Director award in the Orizzonti section.

Theeb premier
Considering  what you in the States will actually have the opportunity to see, my Top 10 recommendations are as follows:

1. GOOD KILL starring Ethan Hawke, directed by Andrew Niccol

2. THE SOUND OF SILENCE, documentary by Josh Oppenheimer

3. 99 HOMES starring Michael Shannon & Andrew Garfield, directed by Ramin Bahrani

4. THE HUMBLING starring Al Pacino, directed by Barry Levinson

5. BIRDMAN starring Michael Keaton, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu

6. SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY starring Owen Wilson, directed by Peter Bogdanovich

7. CYMBELINE starring Ethan Hawke, directed by Michael Almereyda

8. NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME I - DIRECTOR'S CUT starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, directed by Lars von Trier

9. OLIVE KITTERIDGE starring Frances McDormand, directed by Lisa Cholodenko

10. BURYING THE EX, directed by Joe Dante

Jackie & Ryan directed by Ami Canaan Mann
Unfortunately, I completely missed "Jackie & Ryan" directed by Ami Canaan Mann, which is a shame because I really like her work. Things are so hectic during the festival that it never blipped on my radar until just now when I was sorting through my Twitter messages and saw that Guy Lodge at Variety gave it a lovely review:

Katherine Heigl and Ben Barnes make genuinely sweet music together in this mellow, likably corny heartland romance.


Just when I was beginning to think that I was completely out of sync with the rest of the planet, I was relieved to finally find a critic with whom I agreed, who also thought "Good Kill" was a worthy flick, that Al Pacino was terrific in "The Humbling," and that "Cymbeline" was "brazen and provocative" -- Stephanie Zacharek, principal film critic for The Village Voice. I had heard her speak on the panel for Biennale College, and she knows her stuff.  Click HERE to read her "Good Kill" review, with links to a handful of others.

Here are the official awards: 


The Awards at the 71st Venice International Film Festival
VENEZIA 71
The Venezia 71 Jury, chaired by Alexandre Desplat and comprised of Joan Chen, Philip Gröning, Jessica Hausner, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sandy Powell, Tim Roth, Elia Suleiman and Carlo Verdone having viewed all 20 films in competition, has decided as follows:
GOLDEN LION for Best Film to:
EN DUVA SATT PÅ EN GREN OCH FUNDERADE PÅ TILLVARON
(A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE)
by Roy Andersson (Sweden, Germany, Norway, France)
SILVER LION for Best Director to:
Andrej Končalovskij
for the film BELYE NOCHI POCHTALONA ALEKSEYA TRYAPITSYNA
(THE POSTMAN’S WHITE NIGHTS)
(Russia)
GRAND JURY PRIZE to:
THE LOOK OF SILENCE by Joshua Oppenheimer
(Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Norway, United Kingdom)
COPPA VOLPI
for Best Actor:
Adam Driver
in the film HUNGRY HEARTS by Saverio Costanzo (Italy)
COPPA VOLPI
for Best Actress:
Alba Rohrwacher
in the film HUNGRY HEARTS by Saverio Costanzo (Italy)
MARCELLO MASTROIANNI AWARD
for Best Young Actor or Actress to:
Romain Paul
in the film LE DERNIER COUP DE MARTEAU by Alix Delaporte (France)
AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY to:
Rakhshan Banietemad and Farid Mostafavi
for the film GHESSEHA (TALES) by Rakhshan Banietemad (Iran)
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE to:
SIVAS by Kaan Müjdeci (Turkey, Germany)
LION OF THE FUTURE – “LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS” VENICE AWARD FOR A DEBUT FILM
Lion of the Future – “Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film Jury at the 71st Venice Film Festival, chaired by Alice Rohrwacher and comprised of Lisandro Alonso, Ron Mann, Vivian Qu and Razvan Radulescu,  has decided to award:
LION OF THE FUTURE – “LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS” VENICE AWARD FOR A DEBUT FILM to:
COURT by Chaitanya Tamhane (India)
ORIZZONTI
as well as a prize of 100,000 USD, donated by Filmauro di Aurelio e Luigi  De Laurentiis to be divided equally between director and producer
ORIZZONTI AWARDS
The Orizzonti Jury of the 71st Venice Film Festival, chaired by Ann Hui and composed of Moran Atias, Pernilla August, David Chase, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Roberto Minervini and Alin Taşçiyan after screening the 29 films in competition has decided to award:
the ORIZZONTI AWARD FOR BEST FILM to:
COURT by Chaitanya Tamhane (India)
the ORIZZONTI AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR to:
Naji Abu Nowar
for THEEB (Jordan, U.A.E., Qatar, United Kingdom)
the SPECIAL ORIZZONTI JURY PRIZE to:
BELLUSCONE. UNA STORIA SICILIANA
by Franco Maresco (Italy)
the SPECIAL ORIZZONTI AWARD FOR BEST ACTOR OR ACTRESS to:
Emir Hadžihafizbegović
in the film TAKVA SU PRAVILA (THESE ARE THE RULES)
by Ognjen Sviličić (Croatia, France, Serbia, Macedonia)
the ORIZZONTI AWARD FOR BEST SHORT FILM to:
MARYAM by Sidi Saleh (Indonesia)
the VENICE SHORT FILM NOMINATION FOR THE EUROPEAN FILM AWARDS 2014 to:
PAT – LEHEM (DAILY BREAD) by Idan Hubel (Israel)
VENEZIA CLASSICI AWARDS
The Venezia Classici Jury, chaired by Giuliano Montaldo composed of 28 students of Cinema History, chosen in particular from the teachers of 13 Italian Dams university programmes and from the Venetian Ca’ Foscari, has decided to award:
the VENEZIA CLASSICI AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY ON CINEMA to:
ANIMATA RESISTENZA by Francesco Montagner and Alberto Girotto (Italy)
the VENEZIA CLASSICI AWARD FOR BEST RESTORED FILM to:
UNA GIORNATA PARTICOLARE by Ettore Scola (1977, Italy, Canada)
GOLDEN LION FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT 2014 to:
Thelma Schoonmaker
Frederick Wiseman
JAEGER-LECOULTRE GLORY TO THE FILMMAKER AWARD 2014 to:
James Franco
PERSOL TRIBUTE VISIONARY TALENT AWARD 2014 to:
Frances McDormand
L’ORÉAL PARIS PER IL CINEMA AWARD to:
Valentina Corti

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat

Friday, September 5, 2014

GOOD KILL Gets my Vote - Best Film at 2014 Venice Film Festival

Ethan Hawke in GOOD KILL
(Venice, Italy) "Good Kill" by Andrew Niccol would win the Golden Lion, if it were up to me. I don't know what the odds are of that happening, since it is the last film in competition to screen, and the critics and the audience already seem to have made up their minds, the critics rooting for "The Look of Silence," the documentary by Josh Oppenheimer (which was also my favorite before I saw "Good Kill"), and the audience for "Birdman" by Alejandro G. Inarritu.

But the Jury, headed by the famed French composer Alexandre Desplat, is still out, and with actors as diverse as Tim Roth and Joan Chen on the panel, as well as Pulitzer Prize winning-author, Jhumpa Lahiri, we cannot predict how they will decide. The esteemed members of the 2014 Jury of the Venice Film Festival have won and/or been nominated for so many Academy Awards and other prestigious honors that I can't even begin to tally them all.

Alberto Barbera, Director (left) Alexandre Desplat, President of Jury - Variety party at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
Members of the International Jury of Venezia 71:

Alexandre Desplat (President) - French film composer
    Joan Chen - Chinese and American actress, screenwriter and director
    Philip Gröning - German director and screenwriter
    Jessica Hausner -- Australian film director and screenwriter
    Jhumpa Lahiri - India American author born in London
    Sandy Powell - British costume designer
    Tim Roth - British actor, screenwriter and director
    Elia Suleiman - Palestinian film director and actor
    Carlo Verdone - Italian actor, screenwriter and director

Ethan Hawke and January Jones
"Good Kill" moved me deeply; I wept throughout much of the movie. It is a powerful depiction of a F-16 fighter pilot played by Ethan Hawke, who no longer risks his life in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect the United States, but has been reassigned to piloting drones in an air-conditioned cubicle in the desert near Las Vegas, 7,000 miles away from the action. He now fights the war on terror by remote control for 12 hours, and goes home to his wife (a terrific performance by January Jones) and kids the other half of the day.

Ethan Hawke gives one of the best performances of his career as Major Tommy Egan, who is having extreme difficulty adjusting from the dangerous life of a fighter pilot to a man whose co-workers now include gamers chosen for their ability to play video games in a shopping mall. The movie is set in 2010, and starts with the drones being controlled by the Department of Defense, with definite rules of engagement. Then Egan's unit is chosen to take orders directly from the CIA, and the rationale for the orders to kill start getting freaky. A disembodied voice (a chilling Peter Coyote) comes on the speaker phone: "Just call me Langley," and explains why it's now okay to kill innocent civilians. After the kill, the unit is then required to count the number of dead bodies.

After a stressful day on the job, Egan cranks up the music and zooms home in his souped-up Mustang, the artificial worlds of Las Vegas looming in the background. Even though Egan is always low-key, and never talks about his work at home, the effect the job is having on him starts spilling onto his family. At a barbeque in the yard of his track home in the suburbs that looks like all the rest (except the Egans have a swatch of grass in the back), a friend asks Molly, Egan's wife, if he ever gets angry. "Yes," she replies. "He gets even quieter."


From Variety:

Andrew Niccol takes on the topical issue of drone strikes in a tense war drama notable for its tact and intelligence.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Ethan Hawke stars as a drone pilot fighting the Taliban from the Nevada desert in writer-director Andrew Niccol's timely psychological drama 


Andrew Niccol, Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz (who gives a great performance as Egan's co-worker with real credentials) and producer Zev Foreman (who also produced the Academy Awarding-winning film, "The Hurt Locker") were all here in Venice for the press conference. No one has made a movie about drones before; we have no idea what this new form of warfare is all about, or the effect it has on the people who must perform it, and their families. Andrew Niccol said that he is not anti-drone or pro-drone, he wanted to make a movie about what it is. We keep hearing about "signature strikes." What are they, actually? Ethan Hawke said that his grandfather fought in World War II and never had to count the damage he did. What are we asking these people on the front line of the new modern warfare to do?

The panel was asked if the military had helped with the project, and the answer was no. "It's difficult to make a military movie with no support from the military." Zev Foreman said that he had given the script to the Department of Defense, who had cooperated when he made "The Hurt Locker," but that the "PR machine inside the DoD does not know how to handle the issue." There is a rivalry between the DoD and the OGA -- no one inside the drone program uses the initials "CIA," but, instead, "OGA" for "other governmental agencies" when they speak about who runs the drone program.


Andrew Niccol and Ethan Hawke both stressed that "Good Kill" was a cautionary tale, and that the emphasis in the film was about the people who have been placed in this incredible situation. Drones are bringing about the death of a job: pilots who actually know how to fly a fighter jet. It made me think: what will the world be like when there are no more top guns? People who know how to execute the super skills needed to fly a fighter jet? They took away Egan's work, which defined him as a human being. How many more human experiences will mankind lose? They are taking all the fun out of being a human being! Riding a stationary bicycle in a gym while watching a digital landscape go by is not the same as feeling the wind in your hair and smelling the grass on a winding country road.

I thought the film was practically perfect, from the performances, to the directing, to the cinematography and the music that set the tone. I was riveted. The ending was criticized at the press conference for being "too Hollywood," and Andrew Niccol replied, "We don't know what the ending is.""Good Kill" is a deeply human story, and the ending is the right ending. It is a MUST SEE.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

P.S. This snippet review from the English-language version of ANSA, the Italian news wire, is not accurate from my point of view. At the press screening I attended in the Sala Grande at 11:30 AM, there was no booing whatsoever. If someone booed at the earlier screening, well, I would not be the least bit surprised if it was a stunt. "Good Kill" is excellent, and the CIA has every reason to want you not to see it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nymphs at the Venice Film Festival - Uma Thurman & Charlotte Gainsbourg Rock the Sala Darsena Theater

Uma Thurman - Venice Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) The divine Uma Thurman was in the audience last night for the world premiere of the 3-hour Lars von Trier Director's Cut of Nymphomaniac: Volume II, although she is not in the movie. However, she is in the 2-hour 35 minute Director's Cut of Nymphomaniac: Volume I, where she blows everyone else off the screen with her impressive appearance in one amazing scene. Thurman is a wife who shows up with her three kids to confront her husband who has decided to abandon them and move in with nymphomaniac, Joe, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who was also in the audience for both films.

Charlotte Gainsbourg - Venice Film Festival
Celebrities are always in the theater to watch their films after making their red carpet appearances, so that was not unusual. What made it different is that usually they are in the Sala Grande theater up in the non-balcony (the Sala Grande doesn't have a closed balcony that separates the stars from the audience, only stairs and a rail). Industry professionals can't attend the prime-time evening screening in the Sala Grande, only the public. By the time the red carpet screening arrives, the press has already seen the film and listened to the celebrities at a press conference.

Sala Grande
What was unique about Thurman and Gainsbourg watching Nymphomaniac with the audience is that it screened in a different theater, the fabulous Sala Darsena, freshly-restored, which, in the past, was limited to the press and industry professionals. The Sala Darsena has no balcony at all, just three different levels of seating. Years ago, it was an open-air arena. Now it is a totally cool theater with 1400 seats, sort of retro-contemporary hip with a fantastic sound system.

President Paolo Baratta in Sala Darsena
I had never seen either Nymphomaniac flick before, and went to both films, which is a total of five-and-a-half hours of Lars von Trier's revolutionary work. The first one started at 2:00pm, and I arrived at Sala Darsena just couple of minutes before. Steppenwolf's Born to Be Wild was cranking and a bunch of security guys were there. I asked the guy who checked my badge what was going on, and he said he had no idea. I was going to wait outside to see, but the film was about to start, so I went in.

Nymphomaniac: Volume II
I was surprised to see that the theater was packed. I thought I saw Alberto Barbera, the Director of the Venice Film Festival, in the audience, and I knew something was up. Then, the music exploded, and the delegation of Nymphomaniac paraded through the door -- including Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard, who also stars. The delegation entered the center of the theater, a dynamic entrance; such an entrance would not work for all films, but was perfect for Nymphomaniac. The audience got to its feet and roared. 

I ended up sitting in the same row as the delegation, although in a different section, and it was riveting to watch the film with the people who had made it. I kept glancing at Charlotte Gainsbourg out of the corner of my eye as I watched her extreme actions on screen, and thought how fortunate she was to experience such a thing -- to watch yourself perform in a ground-breaking film in the company of 1400 simpatici strangers. To use a dusty expression: Far out! It used to be that everybody was doing far out things; now most things have become pedantic. Forty-two years ago it was socially acceptable to go to the movies and see Deep Throat; it seems we should be further ahead.


Stellan Skarsgard at Venice Film Festival
I thought the Director's Cut of Nymphomaniac: Volume I was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a movie that finally addressed female sexuality in a mythic way. Lars von Trier had said that his ambition was to create a film that had the characteristics of a literary novel. The first part succeeded in doing that, especially if we consider that a nymph is a divine spirit that animates nature. 

Skarsgard co-stars as a seemingly compassionate bachelor named Seligman who finds a beaten Joe lying in an alley and takes her home. He tends to her wounds, and listens as she tells her life story. We watch Joe grow up, compete in a seduction game on a train with her friend, and experience the touching relationship she had with her father, who is played by Christian Slater. 


Nymphomaniac: Volume I
At 7:00pm, the Director's Cut of Nymphomaniac: Volume II was much darker; to me, it lost its direction because it became too masochistic. Earlier, during a bizarre press conference at which von Trier was present only cyber-ly by iPad through lifelines relayed by Stellan Skarsgard, he said: “Everything that is masochistic in the film is me,” said von Trier (via Skarsgard). “The women, to a certain extent, is some of [von Trier], but every time something masochistic is shown, it’s [von Trier].” 

That was the problem. The masochism felt imposed upon Joe's character, not something that had developed organically. The nymph stepped out of Nymphomaniac, replaced by a satyr.

Nymphomaniac: Volume II
 From The Daily Beast:

The reclusive—and controversial—filmmaker vowed to never speak publicly after his ‘Nazi’ scandal at Cannes. But he broke it to discuss the uncut version of Nymphomaniac at the Venice Film Festival (kind of).

Nymphomaniac
There was a glimmer of hope near the end of the film, but it was not to be. For me, it would have been more satisfying if von Trier had had the courage to follow the sun -- since he was brave enough to make the film in the first place -- but instead he wimped out and opted for the darkness.

Here is an informative review from Roger Ebert.com.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, August 30, 2014

AL PACINO Dazzles at Venice Film Festival

Al Pacino in Venice (Photo: David Azia)
(Venice, Italy) Al Pacino looks and acts like the legendary movie star he is. Pacino is 74-years-old, but has the energy of someone 30 years younger. One of the things that makes Al Pacino so unique is that he is a movie star from New York, not Hollywood. During one of his two press conferences today, when he was asked to comment on Hollywood, he said, "I don't know and I never did know what Hollywood is." He said he had a relationship with Hollywood that was not unfriendly, but not really clear. He said the people who were running the studios these days were different -- not better or worse, just different, and that times had changed. He said he had even gone to see an action figure flick (I forget which one) with one of his kids, and really enjoyed it.

Al Pacino & Chris Messina (Photo: David Azia)
Al Pacino likes to talk. He gives even the simplest questions long, complex answers, winding paths through a forest of riches, which is fascinating to experience firsthand. It is like going to the theater and hearing a monologue perfectly delivered. 

Greta Gerwig & Al Pacino in The Humbling
Pacino is here in Venice with two films this year, David Gordon Green's MANGLEHORN and THE HUMBLING, directed by another legend, Barry Levinson, based on the Philip Roth novel. The storyline is:

"Simon Axler is a famed stage actor who becomes depressed then suicidal when he suddenly and inexplicably loses his gift. In an attempt to get his mojo back, he has an affair with a lesbian woman half his age. Before long, the relationship causes chaos as people from the romantic duo's pasts resurface in their lives."

Al Pacino as Simon Axler
The character, Simon Axler, has isolated himself in the country, and someone asked if Pacino had based the character on his own life. Pacino said, "Of course it's based on my life. Once you're famous anonymity goes up in value."

Barry Levinson said it was it was literally like making a home movie because they shot the movie in 20 days in and around his Connecticut home. I thought the film was terrific, and that Pacino hasn't been in such fine form in years. I pretty much agree with the review in Variety, which said: "Pacino, who seemed to have awakened from a long acting coma when he played Dr. Jack Kevorkian in Levinson’s 2010 HBO movie, “You Don’t Know Jack,” seems similarly rejuvenated here, in what’s easily his best bigscreen performance since Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia” in 2002."

Simon Axler may have lost his mojo, but Al Pacino most definitely has not.

Ciao from The Venice Film Festival,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, August 29, 2014

Foreclosure Scam Exposed in 99 HOMES - Venice Film Festival

Andrew Garfield in 99 HOMES
(Venice, Italy) An average American family is thrown ruthlessly out of their home in Orlando, Florida at the start of Ramin Bahrani's powerful foreclosure drama, 99 HOMES. It was no accident that so many Americans suddenly lost their homes -- it was outright corruption, another scheme by the greedy to make money off human misery, which comes as no surprise. But it is extremely satisfying to watch how the vultures did it up there on the big screen.

At the press conference, Bahrani was asked if he set the film in Orlando, Florida on purpose, and he said, "of course I did." He went down there to do research, and after two or three weeks, he was dizzy from the corruption. He said, "I never saw so many guns in my life."

Andrew Garfield, Ramin Bahrani & Michael Shannon
Here is the DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT:

The 99% is a global phenomenon. The common man around the world can no longer do hard, honest work and expect to thrive against systematic greed and corruption. When faced by the firing squad, does a man join hands with his executioner? Is there any choice to make other than a deal with the devil?

Andrew Garfield & Michael Shannon
Michael Shannon is one of my favorite actors; he always manages to bring a layer of humanity to the most unsavory characters. He plays Rick Carver, a heartless estate agent who represents the banks, tossing people and their possessions out on the street the moment the moment a judge -- who is also part of the corrupt pyramid -- signs the order. In Florida, the judgment speeds by so fast that they call them "Rocket Dockets."

Andrew Garfield is Dennis Nash, a hard-working single dad who can do most any job in construction. He lives with his widowed mother (Laura Dern) and son (Noah Lomax) in the simple Orlando home where he grew up. When the building market collapses and he loses his work, he is told by the bank not to make a payment; he misses three, and the next thing he knows, he, his mother and his son are crammed into a cheap motel, surrounded by other evicted families.

99 HOMES has gotten positive reviews all around.

The Guardian:

Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon flog the foundations of America - Ramin Bahrani delivers a muscular, complex drama about real-estate – and false promises – in a land of dreams and bankruptcy

Variety: 

Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield deliver dynamic performances in Ramin Bahrani's furious study of corrupt One Percent privilege.

The Hollywood Reporter:

A hard-hitting look at America's economic divide

 The Telegraph:

Andrew Garfield leaves Spider-Man far behind in this timely, gut-twisting tale of the U.S. real estate crisis


Ramin Bahrani said that honest hard work does not get you anywhere these days, but that can change. "More powerful than money, is art."

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Look of Silence - Venice Film Festival 2014

THE LOOK OF SILENCE by Josh Oppenheimer
(Venice, Italy) THE LOOK OF SILENCE is the riveting companion film to Josh Oppenheimer's Academy Award-nominated 2012 documentary about the 1965-66 genocide in Indonesia entitled, THE ACT OF KILLING, which I have not yet seen. It is not necessary to see The Act of Killing to appreciate The Look of Silence, which stands alone.

On screen, Adi Rukun, the protagonist of The Look of Silence, who is an optician by trade, watches scenes from The Act of Killing in which members of the civilian militia enthusiastically reenact how they chopped off people's heads, slashed open their stomachs and chests, cut off their penises, sliced their throats, drank their blood, and then threw them in Snake River, all with the intent of cleaning the country of "communists." Adi's older brother, Ramli, was one of over one million victims; the difference between Ramli and the others who were slaughtered is that Ramli's death had witnesses.

Adi's parents today
Adi was born after his brother's murder when his parents were middle-aged; they are now both in their 100s. His mother is still wracked with sorrow over the death of Ramli; his father is blind and senile. The Indonesia genocide has been propagandized and covered-up -- to this day, the survivors have been terrorized into silence.

Oppenheimer's 2012 documentary The Act of Killing helped to break the silence. The Look of Silence goes further when Adi confronts those responsible for his brother's murder, not with anger, but with a deep desire to understand their motivation. Adi is not out for revenge: he wants to know why the family he grew up in is so traumatized and afraid. He wants the killers to acknowledge what they did, and to apologize, so the entire country can move forward. His story represents more than one million other Indonesians.


I don't know what is more astonishing -- that Oppenheimer actually got the killers -- who are still in power in Indonesia -- to boast about their acts on camera, or that they seem to feel absolutely no remorse whatsoever, and seem to have acted with complete impunity. It is as if they literally have been brainwashed to believe they have done something wonderful -- they giggle and laugh as they describe their sadistic murders. There is nothing normal or human about it.

Oppenheimer said:

"I did not know if it was safe to approach the killers, but when I did, I found all of them to be boastful, immediately recounting the killings, often with smiles on their faces, in front of their small grandchildren. In this contract between survivors forced into silence and perpetrators boastfully recounting stories far more incriminating than anything the survivors could have told, I felt I'd wandered into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust, only to find the Nazis still in power."

This time, I agree with all the reviews.

The Guardian:

The Look of Silence: Act of Killing director's second film is as horrifically gripping as first

Joshua Oppenheimer's stunning follow-up to 'The Act of Killing' shifts focus to the victims of Indonesia's communist purge.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to 'The Act of Killing' revisits Indonesia’s mass murders of the 1960s and the outer reaches of human evil

Joshua Oppenheimer's film about Indonesia’s mass murders of the Sixties is a shattering voyage into the jungle of human nature

Joshua Oppenheimer
At the press conference, the last question Oppenheimer was asked was what his plans were for the future. He was evasive. Also, earlier, Oppenheimer had not answered a journalist who asked him if he thought he could have made the film in the United States -- he is an American based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has pushed the US to acknowledge its role in the genocide. I, too, was curious what his answer would be, so I asked him after the conference (due to time constraints.) I said, "Josh, you didn't answer the question. COULD you have made this film in the United States?" Oppenheimer seemed genuinely bewildered. "Did I get asked that? Maybe that's the answer to the last question. Maybe that's what I'm going to do next."

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

LIVE! From the 71st Venice Film Festival - Birdman & The President

BIRDMAN directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, starring Michael Keaton

(Venice, Italy) The transitory nature of power and glory are the themes of both BIRDMAN and THE PRESIDENT, the opening films of the 2014 Venice International Film Festival.

BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, stars Michael Keaton as a movie star who once achieved international fame by playing the superhero "Birdman," and is now trying to revive his career by betting everything, including his Malibu house, on a Broadway show, starring in, directing, producing and adapting a Raymond Carver short story. BIRDMAN has received mostly positive reviews, including a bunch of raves.

Michael Keaton & Edward Norton
From VARIETY:

Michael Keaton pulls off a startling comeback in Alejandro G. Inarritu's blistering showbiz satire.

From the LONDON EVENING STANDARD:

The Venice Film Festival has pulled off a genuine coup by bagging the star-studded Birdman for its opening night, an expertly delivered black comedy about showbiz and celebrity, fantasy and reality



This is a phenomenal start to this year’s Mostra: grand, spectacular, star-powered cinema that makes us ask anew what cinema is for. Call it a Dark Knight of the soul.

Amy Ryan & Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton soars in Alejandro G. Inarritu's brilliantly directed dark comedy about celebrity and creation

 THE GUARDIAN feels differently:

This year’s Venice film festival begins with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s showbiz satire, a film as jittery, shallow and occasionally inspired as its hero

I'm with The Guardian on this one. I just wasn't sure what key we were in. Black comedy? Drama? Magical realism? During the press conference, Inarritu said he wanted to step out of his comfort zone, and that he realized for the first time that you could laugh on a set. He said he was terrified, but was happy to have done it.

He did some get great performances out of his actors. Emma Stone in particular was impressive, playing Keaton's daughter, Sam, just out of rehab. At the press conference, Stone said she'd "learned more on this movie than I've ever learned," and wanted to do it all over again.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot Gravity, does the same thing to New York City as he did to outer space -- makes us feel like are really there. Time Square, Broadway, the St. James Theater... I could smell the city. Amy Ryan, who plays Keaton's ex-wife, said that "New York is another character in this film."

When I think of other satirical films like, say, NETWORK, that aroused such a depth of emotion in audiences throughout the world, I don't think BIRDMAN matches that level of engagement. But if we compare it to yet another superhero action film, then it does reach the level of "inspired."

(As I write this in the press room, it is difficult to tell who is making more commotion -- the crowd roaring as the celebrities arrive on the red carpet, or the anti-cruise ship demonstrators protesting in the street below.)


THE PRESIDENT directed by Moshen Makhmalbaf
THE PRESIDENT, the opening film of the Orizzoni (Horizons) section of the Venice Film Festival by the Iranian director, Moshen Makhmalbaf was shot in Georgia, and is in the Georgian language with Italian and English subtitles. It opens with the dictator of an unnamed country holding his young grandson on his lap and illustrating how much fun it is to play with power when the boy complains he doesn't want his grandfather's job, he wants an ice cream. Grandpa picks up the phone and orders that all the lights in the major city below be turned off. Instantly, the city goes black. He hands the receiver to his grandson, who orders that all the lights be turned back on. Flash! The city lights up. The grandson then orders all the lights off once again. Again, the city goes black. But when the boy orders the lights back on again, nothing happens. The city remains black. And so starts the beginning of the revolution...

Dachi Orvelashvili and Misha Gomiashvili
His Majesty (as The President is called by everyone) and his grandson, are forced to flee their palace and disguise themselves as ordinary citizens, experiencing firsthand the pain and destruction the dictator's leadership cost his own people. 

From VARIETY:

Mohsen Makhmalbaf offers a didactic morality tale about a fallen autocrat and his innocent grandson fleeing murderous revolutionaries bent on vengeance.

During the press conference Makhmalbaf, who lives in exile in London, said he wanted to illustrate that not only the dictator, but the revolutionaries turn to violence. When you remove a dictator, the violence and thirst for revenge remains among the population, creating a vicious cycle. Variety said it expected more from Makhmalbaf; again, I disagree. Even though the message seems "obvious," given the state of current events, not many nations seem to grasp that simple thing.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog