Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Venice, Day 4

In 2009, I saw Todd Solondz’s LIFE DURING WARTIME in Venice and it was my favorite thing that year. So I was understandably excited to see his latest film, DARK HORSE, in competition. It starts off in pure Solondz style, with biting satire of the blandness and crassness of America mixed with genuine affection for the damaged souls he portrays, but ultimately runs out of steam in the second half and becomes almost sentimental in its final minutes, a first for this director. Unlike most of his other films, this one follows only one story as opposed to an ensemble cast of fuck-ups, which perhaps explains the disappointing second half.

Swedish drama PLAY was a gamble, a film we decided to see because of a gap in the schedule. Not knowing anything, we encountered a stylish, formalist piece (the whole film consists of probably no more than 40 static shots) about bullying and petty criminal activity amongst children in Gottenberg, Sweden. It was genuine, tense and thought provoking, but ultimately unsatisfying, as it never seemed to go anywhere.

This highly anticipated film is yet another where I know, as with SHAME, I’ll be at odds with both audiences and critics: TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY was an efficient, well acted, tight spy thriller whose existence is caused only by a cynical opportunity to exploit an existing literary property. There is no need for this movie and frankly, I was bored by it. Perhaps I am prejudiced as I have never been a fan of the story to begin with – I find Smiley dull (I know that’s the point) and I never found the tale compelling.

Jonathan Demme does a great disservice to what could have been a heartbreaking masterpiece in I’M CAROLYN PARKER, a documentary about the titular character, a black woman living in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. Her story is the story of thousands of black families who lost their homes and were scattered across the country – but Carolyn stayed behind and slowly rebuilt her home. She is dynamic and funny, but Demme’s shaky, amateur camera and wedding video style techniques betray his lack of effort. Shame.

Andrea Arnold’s version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS couldn’t be more dissimilar: a big, towering masterpiece that should be the template for all English period pieces: unconventional, bold, innovative, brave – and above all, moving. The film reminded me a lot of Malick’s THE NEW WORLD in the way that the love story is intertwined with the natural landscape, and the lack of score is filled by the sounds of the moors – the howling winds, the pouring rain, the dogs and the crickets. This is exactly the kick up the ass a classic like this needs – a necessary, fresh approach. One of my favorite films of the year.

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