Fact and fiction and the blurring between the two emerged as a central theme at the 67th Venice Film Festival, which ended on Saturday. The biggest question here on the Lido — other than when the sun would shine on us again — hung over Joaquin Phoenix and the film I’m Still Here, directed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck, chronicling Phoenix’s attempts to become a rapper. I asked Casey, directly — was it a hoax? “There is no hoax,” he replied.
But, to my eyes, the whole thing clearly has been and it’s impressive how they kept us guessing — and caring — for so long. But it’s now safe to say that, contrary to the brilliantly propagated rumors, Phoenix did not quit acting to take up hip-hop. Rather he immersed himself fully in the role of an intense Hollywood actor who quit acting for a disastrous rap career and the result is easily Phoenix’s best performance and a very decent, often very funny, Hollywood meltdown movie, shot in the faux-doc manner of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno.
The game for audiences is to work out which of the celebs in it know what’s going on. Bruce Willis and Sean Penn? Ben Stiller, who remarks at the Oscars that the bearded and disheveled Phoenix looks like he works in a “Hasidic meth lab”? P Diddy, who agrees to listen to the terrible rap songs? Or David Letterman, on whose show Phoenix first went public with his meltdown?
Phoenix certainly looked all right stepping off his boat, all clean shaven and slimmed down, smiling for the cameras, a grin that either said “Aha, gotcha,” or “Thank God I don’t have to be that character any more,” or both.
Believe what you want to believe. This Venice was open to anything, even the films of Vincent Gallo. In the absence of George Clooney — why his film The American, shot in Abruzzo and co-starring the beautiful Italian actress Violante Placido wasn’t here, I don’t know — it was left to Gallo to take the festival’s poster boy role. He directed and starred in Promises Written in Water and played a fugitive Taliban terrorist in Essential Killing, as well as presenting a short film, The Agent.
He, too, was going for some kind of postmodern joke. Having earned, with his last feature The Brown Bunny (2003), the dubious honor of the worst film ever to appear at Cannes, Gallo
has now done the double, with the worst film ever shown in competition
at Venice. Promises Written in Water is a studenty lo-fi love story with Gallo as an undertaker preparing the body
of a beautiful woman who knows
she’s about to die. To be fair, it has
its moments of tenderness, but
mostly it’s flatulent and indulgent and so, so boring.
Gallo refused to attend his press conference or do any interviews. So did Phoenix. I thought a couple of times that maybe they were one and the same person, especially as Gallo had a beard and long hair for his role in Essential Killing, a deeply silly film in which he utters not a word as he goes on the run from US troops in the Ukrainian forests, playing a Taliban terrorist escaping rendition. Starving and thirsty, he’s so desperate that at one point he attacks a peasant woman as she’s breastfeeding her baby and sucks her milk.
There were some really good films here in a competition that responded to a lack of Hollywood product — Ben Affleck’s sentimental Boston crime thriller, The Town, was a flashy though not unenjoyable sideshow — by opening its reach across all genres and borders. Chilean director Pablo Larrain, whose last film, Tony Manero, wowed at Cannes’ directors’ fortnight, was now promoted to the big stage with Post Mortem, a film of remarkable poise
and poison, set in Santiago during the 1973 coup.
Also set in 1973, in Spain, is Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus, a bonkers film about a sad clown who goes berserk and bites the hand of General Franco. Normally, I would run a mile from a movie with oddball stiltwalkers, flying midgets and comedy human cannonballs, but this had a wildness, sexiness and daring insanity that is weirdly compelling. Who wouldn’t want to see two rampaging, disfigured clowns with machetes and machine guns dueling over a large-breasted trapeze artist on top of a
More considered but also set in a freak show was Abdellatif Kechiche’s Black Venus, a superb, weighty film about colonial exploitation and sex and morality. Only at the end does it confirm itself as a true story, about Sarah Baartman aka the Hottentot Venus, a black woman paraded as a savage in early-19th-century London. It’s a long film, grueling at times, but utterly spellbinding. This director, who showed Couscous here three years ago, is officially confirmed as one of the world’s finest.
The 67th Venice Film Festival displayed and questioned the nature and role of modern art cinema in all its forms. Samurai films, such as Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins and kung fu movies such as Tsui Hark’s (徐克) Detective Dee and the Mystery of Phantom Flame did battle with Darren Aronofsky’s ballet thriller Black Swan, Sofia Coppola’s Hollywood bubble essay Somewhere and Tom Tykwer’s upscale Berlin sex comedy, Drei.
Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, the tale of an actor who sees the emptiness of his existence through the eyes of his child, walked away with the top Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival.
The jury, headed by director Quentin Tarantino, unanimously chose Coppola’s film as the best movie at the 11-day annual festival.
In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff plays a Hollywood star whose somewhat empty life is enriched by the arrival of his daughter, played by Elle Fanning. The film takes place nearly entirely in hotels, mostly the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.
★ Golden Lion for best film: Somewhere by Sofia Coppola (US)
★ Silver Lion for best director: Alex de la Iglesia for A Sad Trumpet Ballad (Spain-France)
★ Special Lion for overall work: Monte Hellman (US)
★ Special jury prize: Essential Killing by Jerzy Skolimowski (Poland-Norway-Hungary-Ireland)
★ Coppa Volpi for best actor: Vincent Gallo in Essential Killing by Jerzy Skolimowski (Poland-Norway-Hungary-Ireland)
★ Coppa Volpi for best actress: Ariane Labed in Attenberg by Athina Rachel Tsangari (Greece)
★ Osella for best cinematography: Mikhail Krichman for Silent Souls by Aleksei Fedorchenko (Russia)
★ Osella prize for best screenplay: Alex de la Iglesia for A Sad Trumpet Ballad (Spain-France)
★ Marcello Mastroianni award for best young actor or actress: Mila Kunis, 27, in Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky (US)Source: AFP
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