It's been a week and a half since the night of those controversial awards. Time to wrap Venice 2010 with one final roundup. The festival closed with Julie Taymor's The Tempest and, while the lineup for this year's New York Film Festival looks strong overall, the first reviews of the NYFF's centerpiece aren't promising.
Julie Taymor "seems perfectly happy to take an unimaginative approach," writes Sight & Sound editor Nick James. "Although Prospero's lines are regendered for [Helen] Mirren's Prospera, Taymor cleaves in every other conceivable way to the bleedin' obvious: the text is almost entire and barely altered; Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) is an African slave, Ariel (Ben Whishaw) a death-white androgynous Bowie-clone, Miranda (Felicity Jones) and Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) toothsome drips. Fine acting there is: Mirren is intermittently brilliant as Prospera, Alan Cumming and Chris Cooper have fun yet make their line readings count as the conspirators Sebastian and Antonio, and Tom Conti is outstanding as the old kind-hearted bore Gonzalo. But what finally sets the dead hand's grip on this film's gizzard is its appallingly facile CGI effects. From the ship in a storm that looks like a badly painted bottle label to the embarrassing body-doubling and -dividing effects for Ariel to the glowing-coal hell hounds that move in slo-mo while their supposed victims totter in terror like amateur catwalk models, it is all fifth-rate stuff."
"Taymor's redreaming is limited to surface-level visual dressing of a vanilla community theater-style performance," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. "This would be fine — Baz Luhrmann's hopped-up Romeo + Juliet didn't have much to say about its source material either — if the performance itself was a little more committed, and if Taymor's aesthetic innovations weren't so uniformly trite. Taymor may have long been described (and indulged) as a primarily visual artist of stage and screen — her three previous films layering stylized technique upon stylized technique to arresting but often suffocating effect — but The Tempest is the first of her films that could be described as drab, or even ugly."
More from Robert Beames (Telegraph), Leslie Felperin (Variety) and Deborah Young (Hollywood Reporter).
"Marco Bellocchio takes his experimental medium-length film Sorelle, which stars his family and debuted at the 2006 Rome International Film Festival, and adding new material turns it into the full-length Sorelle Mai (that translates into 'Sisters Never)." Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter: "The look of the no-budget workshop project is rough, but entirely credible performances and neatly woven editing by Bellocchio's wife Francesca Calvelli (No Man's Land, The Solitude of Prime Numbers) make the high concept family-student affair oddly engaging." More from Jay Weissberg (Variety).
"Exploding the myths surrounding Italy's unification in the 19th century should be heady stuff, but Mario Martone's We Believed is unrelentingly flat and numbingly long," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety. Adds Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter: "Pre-festival buzz had it that We Believed is an important political film that explains how Italy arrived at its current economic and political situation from a decidedly left-leaning filmmaker. But it all plays like a disjointed, rhetorical Wikipedia entry on the historical period, brought to the screen though not necessarily to life." More from Camillo de Marco (Cineuropa).
"Carlo Mazzacurati deserves a wider international audience and his in-competition La Passione (The Passion) may prove his breakthrough movie outside Italy," wrote Roderick Conway Morris in the International Herald Tribune a couple of weeks ago. "Inspired by the director's own experience, it is a sustained comedy, but one shot through with pathos and a sharply observed picture of Italian society today." On the other hand, Jay Weissberg in Variety: "While it milks a few minor yucks out of the Italo film industry, this semi-satirical tale of a blocked director blackmailed into helming a small-town passion play is like processed mozzarella: disappointingly bland, only slightly cheesy and instantly forgettable." More from Natasha Senjanovic (Hollywood Reporter) and Camillo de Marco (Cineuropa).
OUT OF COMPETITION
"The dancers are dunces in Showtime, Stanley Kwan's borderline incoherent tale of time-traveling hoofers that's (probably?) supposed to say something about the contrast between the shifting and the always-constant aspects of Shanghai," writes Boyd van Hoeij in Variety. "Despite the involvement of high-profile crew, including Wong Kar-wai's DP Christopher Doyle and editor William Chang Suk Ping, pic reps something of a career worst for almost all involved."
Leslie Felperin in Variety: "Hands pop out of the ground, monsters lunge camerawards, and other shocktastic devices that even William Castle would have thought corny are deployed for stereoscopic silliness in The Child's Eye, the latest from prolific co-helming brothers Danny and Oxide Pang. Billing itself as Hong Kong's first 3D horror film, the pic certainly doesn't offer any firsts in the script department, with a hoary tale of a haunted hotel in Bangkok."
"Michele Placido is not going to be squelching any of the controversy that preceded Vallanzasca, his biopic on infamous bank robber and lady killer (figuratively speaking) Renato Vallanzasca," writes Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter. "One of Italy's most notorious criminals, the man is serving four life sentences for armed robbery and the murder of several police officers, whose families tried to stop the project they felt was disrespectful toward the victims. Vallanzasca tackles its subject with the same kind of hip visual energy, snappy editing and tour-de-force acting that made Placido's 2005 Romanzo Criminale — also known as Kings of Crime and Crime Novel internationally — a sleeper hit in France and England as well as a success at home, where it has spawned an award-winning TV series." More from Camillo de Marco (Cineuropa) and Roderick Conway Morris (International Herald Tribune).
"Working only with archive images, from a story he co-wrote with Michele Astori and Massimo Fiocchi, Gabriele Salvatores paints a black and white picture of the sweet, and not-so-sweet, life in Italy over 1960," writes Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter. "Moments that get most laughs are street interviews of men earnestly explaining why women shouldn't be allowed to drive and why men are natural adulterers." More from Jay Weissberg (Variety).
"Jan Svankmajer pops up at the start of live-action/animation mixture Surviving Life to complain lugubriously that there's no money in dreams, his film's subject," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. "However, this accessible, entertaining work may rep his most commercial in years. An amiably goofy yarn about a man so in love with the literal woman of his dreams he seeks help to sleep more effectively, pic feels more like a mainstream Czech comedy than the helmer's usual darker fare. Purists may grumble that Svankmajer's dumbed down, but more generous souls will be happy to see him still surviving and evolving at age 76."
Jay Weissberg in Variety: "The titular 18th-century Indian painter receives a poetical film essay on his life and art in sophomore helmer Amit Dutta's beautiful but homogenous Nainsukh. Rich with gorgeous images and shot in the actual locales in Jammu and Kashmir, this stately meditation uses the artist's stunning naturalistic works as templates for recreated scenes whose static qualities, even when movement is involved, hold attention for only so long."
Again, Jay Weissberg: "Close-ups play the key role in tyro helmer Lluís Galter's Caracremada, conveying a sense of the circumscribed world of an anti-Franco partisan going it alone in the Catalan hinterland. However, a beautiful use of light and painterly colors are no substitute for narrative thrust, and the obsessive use of tight focus just calls attention to itself instead of communicating atmosphere."
"Patrick Keiller's Robinson in Ruins follows much the same formula as its wonderful predecessors London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997)," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention, "continuing Keiller's archly academic diary of the fictitious Robinson's British travels, but skimping on the tongue-in-cheek wit that once energized the project's simple presentation.... Part of that absence cannot be helped: the late Paul Scofield's narration was the star of the previous instalments, and Vanessa Redgrave, while a distinguished vocal presence, can't quite recapture the magic. Addressing as it does matters of economic downturn and decay in modern Britain, it's understandable that Keiller should take on a more somber tone this time around, but while the observations remain as acute as ever, this is the first of his films to feel more like a lecture than a conversation." More from Leslie Felperin (Variety).
Back to Jay Weissberg: "Madness and its boundaries are the subject of Marianne Khoury and Mustapha Hasnaoui's Zelal, a stark cry of recognition for Egypt's mentally ill." The directors "bring their camera into two asylums to interview inmates whose stories speak of medieval attitudes and a criminal lack of understanding. As the country's infrastructure crumbles, these marginalized souls have no where else to go."
Leslie Felperin (Variety): "A handsome but arrogant immigrant settles into an Atlantic seaside town in shapeless and frankly dull uber-low-budget drama News From Nowhere," the first film in twelve years credited to Paul Morrissey alone and which "has all the faults of Morrissey's earlier, better-known works — amateur thesping, weak scripting, shoddy tech work — but lacks the patina of age and the nostalgia factor that makes the old stuff sort of charming."
"Mexican-born, Toronto-based multihyphenate Nicolás Pereda (Juntos) veers further into semi-experimental territory with Summer of Goliath, a docu-fiction hybrid with only a thin smear of narrative," writes Boyd van Hoeij (Variety), who finds the film "resembles Our Beloved Month of August and Putty Hill in the way documentary techniques (including questions coming from an offscreen interviewer) are used to advance what little narrative there is." More from Daniel Kasman here in The Daily Notebook: "Erratic moments aside, most of the work fails, not just to connect but even to suggest, leaving us floating amidst what seems like the detritus, half fact half fiction, of research notes to a more complete feature film."
"A minimalist study in maximum violence, Gianfranco Rosi's El Sicario Room 164 offers viewers the rare chance to meet a Mexican narco hitman and to live to tell the tale," writes Jordan Mintzer (Variety). "Based on a Harper's article by Charles Bowden, this pared-down portrait of a repentant assassin's 20-year career in murder, kidnapping, and torture is captured in one lengthy monologue, with nothing but the interviewee's words to go by."
"Lebanese docu helmer Maher Abi Samra uses film to process his own and his country's past in We Were Communists, a highly personal melding of the intellectual and the emotional." Jay Weissberg: "Recently returned to Lebanon after 15 years in France, Samra reconnects with three comrades to reflect on their involvement with Communism and the Party's distinctive place within Lebanon's internecine landscape."
Jay Weissberg in Variety: "Italo war correspondent Monica Maggioni makes the leap from journalism to docu helming with Ward 54, a moving but unfocused expose of the way the US Army sidelines soldiers returning from Iraq who exhibit Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."
"Roberta Torre returns to the Sicilian camp of her earlier work in a comedy drama that goes everywhere and nowhere," finds Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter. "Fun to look at and well-played, the visually splashy Lost Kisses has too many loose threads in a threadbare plot." More from Leslie Felperin (Variety) and Gabriele Barcaro (Cineuropa).
"Few Italian films on immigration and xenophobia attempt to imagine immigrants' lives prior to their arrival in Italy," writes Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter. "Former MTV VJ and documentary director Massimo Coppola does, with a heroine worthy of the Nouvelle Vague, in his uneven feature debut Afraid of the Dark (Bruises). His sensitive portrayal of an unlikely friendship, good eye for industrial wastelands (even beautiful countryside shots are spotted with electrical towers) and Joy Division soundtrack make some of the film's social cliches easier to overlook."