The seventh edition of the independent section Venice Days opened last Wednesday with Bertrand Blier's The Clink of Ice, "a dark but hopeful comedy about a man who comes face to face, literally, with his fatal illness," as Natasha Senjanovic puts it at Cineuropa. "French superstar Jean Dujardin plays Charles Faulque, an alcoholic writer who never goes anywhere without his bottle of wine, and wine bucket full of clinking ice. His work and marriage have long since fallen apart and, to make matters worse, his health fails him as well, which he finds out when his brain cancer (Albert Dupontel, another star of French comedy) shows up at his door. The cancer is annoying, talks too much and is here to stay, until Charles kicks the bucket."
"More theatrical chamber piece than cinematic allegory, this villa-set affair oscillates between bouts of hilarity and the helmer's trademark misanthropy," writes Jordan Mintzer in Variety. "The idea of depicting cancer via a conniving, loudmouthed nuisance/imaginary friend (a vicious and sarcastic Harvey-like manifestation) is definitely an original one... Yet while the concept is attractive and the cast always watchable, the action, which is basically restrained to a single setting, grows tiresome under Blier's overwrought handling: How many times can the two knuckleheads scream at one another before the jokes start feeling old?"
"Blier has admitted to a personal skirmish with cancer during the recent past, so for all the horseplay, his handling of the issues surrounding the disease is sure-footed and convincing," writes Bernard Besserglik in the Hollywood Reporter. "The humor ranges from Blier's characteristic dark one-liners to the knockabout and at times frankly surreal. Particularly memorable is Charles' visit to a clinic for a brain scan, attended by Charles' cancer in a white coat blending in with the doctors, at which an exasperated head medic head-butts the patient."
Shane Danielsen senses "a hollowed-out, convalescent quality" in The Clink of Ice, "suggesting that the now 71-year-old filmmaker's best work, from Buffet Froid (1979) through to Un, Deux, Trois, Soleil (1993), is now behind him. Alas." That same piece for indieWIRE finds him just as dissatisfied with another Venice Days entry, Paul Gordon's The Happy Poet. "[O]f all human attributes, extreme diffidence is by some margin the least interesting — and certainly the shakiest upon which to base an entire narrative. So pale and uninteresting was this film's protagonist, you soon stopped caring if he succeeded in his venture (the vegan fast-food stand that gives the film its title), or not — or even, for that matter, whether he lived or died. It's not like I'm demanding that characters be as charismatic as Milton's Satan. I just want someone slightly more interesting than the tree they happen to be standing next to. Someone who projects something deeper and more compelling than mere indifference."
"Antonio Capuano's Dark Love screened to a packed house on the second day of Venice Days, and was followed by a hugely enthusiastic response from the visibly moved audience," reports Natasha Senjanovic for Cineuropa. "Most of the kudos were directed at Capuano and his two young protagonists Gabriele Agrio and Irene De Angelis, newcomers who play, respectively, an adolescent boy who turns himself into the police after participating in a gang rape, and his victim." Variety's Leslie Felperin finds it "thoughtful if slightly ponderous."
Felperin, again for Variety: "A schlubby young man from a wealthy background struggles with self-definition under the shadow of his authoritarian father in so-so Turkish drama Majority, a debut for writer-helmer Seren Yüce (formerly assistant director on productions like Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven). With its oblique storytelling, urban setting, and grubby sex, the pic shares aesthetic DNA with some of the arthouse work being done by the currently hot territory's bigger names, although occasional humorous moments suggest Yuce may have a lighter sensibility."
And back to Cineuropa and Natasha Senjanovic: "Director-producer-writer-actress Marion Hänsel chose a classic approach for her latest film, Ocean Black, about French naval soldiers aboard a ship conducting nuclear testing in the Pacific in 1972. A political film at heart, its strength lies in the fact that Hänsel sidesteps rhetoric to instead tell an intimate story about a rite of passage, during a little-known period of recent French history." In Variety, Jay Weissberg finds "the unease is too unfocused and the tensions too weak for real insight."
"After Waltz With Bashir, the animated docu genre has another impressive entry in Little Voices, which recounts the true stories of four Colombian kids displaced by the country's ongoing armed conflict." Boyd van Hoeij for Variety: "Scribe-helmers Jairo Eduardo Carrillo and Oscar Andrade combine audio interviews with the children with visuals inspired by drawings from the tykes themselves. The impressively told and mounted film has a narrative sincerity and simplicity that only children could pull off — though the material is more appropriate for adults."