Hats off to the Venice Film Festival schedulers. Fully aware that by this stage many of us hardy festival folk are starting to wilt, they made sure to throw in a burst of adrenaline to get the blood pumping again. It certainly worked. As I sat down for the first in an evening double bill, I must admit my mind was elsewhere. That didn’t last long. What’s most surprising is the film chosen for the task.
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The crowds are noticeably thinner now, such is the way with the latter half of film festivals. This is a particular problem for the Venice Film Festival, which tends to top load the first half before losing people to Toronto, the opening of North America’s premier festival overlapping. There can still be gems to find here, of course, but today was not happy hunting.
Veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski kicked things off in the main competition with 11 Minutes, a thriller promising the same event from multiple viewpoints. It delivers, but not with any real degree of success. Skolimowski’s film jumps around with a number of dull stories set in Warsaw, showing meaningless snippets until they all come together for a laughably explosive finalé. It’s makes for a technical masterclass, I’ll give him that. Just not much of a film.
Money may not be everything, but it often makes Hollywood’s world go round. Films have become increasingly expensive to make. Unlike decades past where there was a broad spectrum of low, middle, and high expense productions, each bracket containing a multitude of film genres, today there seems to be a squeezing of the middle, with massive, nine-figure films on one side, and smaller, award bait on the other. Even more tragic is that large budget films are seemingly predictable in what they contain (action, excessive CGI, multiple hour running times) as are smaller films (performance driven, low key, drama heavy).
If you haven’t felt a lack of Charlie Kaufman in your life these past seven years, you need to re-evaluate your priorities. Luckily, the wait is over. The master of internalised anguish and bitingly funny insecurity is back with his first animated feature. Co-directing with Duke Johnson, who oversaw the wonderful stop-motion sequences in Community, and with a number of team members from the show on board, Anomalisa is a desperately sad, intricately clever journey through one middle-aged man’s mental crisis, all shot in gorgeous stop-motion.
In the sprawling lordly manor of multimillionaire Charles Richmond (Ralph Richardson, looking as he would 20 years later in Greystoke), who gets at least part of his fortune from copper mines and the exploitation of African labor therein, the wheelchair-bound tyrant barks and raves, querulously waving a stick at dogs, servants, managers, and the world. Besides abusing everybody, his only other pleasure is listening to classical music, and it pleases him that people thought Beethoven was a boor too. Everyone silently puts up with him, including his handsome errand boy Anthony (Sean Connery), who’s both his nephew and stepson.
Into this world of privilege and resentment strides Maria Marcello (Gina Lollobrigida), a fiercely proud nurse of Italian peasant stock who doesn’t mind quitting if she’s annoyed. This makes Richmond respect and wish to acquire her, even if it means apologizing and proposing marriage. Anthony has made his own proposal: that she should marry the old coot, inherit his fortune, and kick back a million dollars to Anthony. They can also carry on together.