Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog

Venice Film Festival 2015: 11 Minutes + Heart of a Dog + A Matter of Life and Death + Interrogation

A thriller, a portrait of a dog, a challenge to Heaven, and a bloody crime drama.

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.

Things improved a little with the second competition film of the day, the return of experimental artist Laurie Anderson, who hasn’t made a feature film since the ’80s. Heart of a Dog is sort of about letting go of her departed pet dog. It’s sort of about a lot of other things as well, from terrorism, to state surveillance, and family relations. There’s a pleasing flow to the diverse images Anderson throws across the screen, and a nice score keeps it all divertingly off-kilter. Despite this, I couldn’t escape the feeling that it’s all a bunch of unfinished thoughts.

At least my third film of the day came with guaranteed good times. In what appears to have become my early evening classics slot, I jumped to British cinema for Powell and Pressburger’s outrageously good A Matter of Life and Death. David Niven plays the RAF bomber shot down in World War II. Plummeting to his death, he flirts with the American woman manning the comms, yet sudden fog throws off the arrival of a representative from Heaven, sent to collect his body, allowing him to survive. He’s then forced to plead for the right to live at a special court in Heaven. An effortlessly charming fantasy, it’s one of the best romances ever put on screen, and one of the finest British films ever made.

There was time for one final film, and given the wind whipping up, it seemed advisable to take shelter in a screen for a couple of hours, anyway. Director Alberto Barbera’s Interrogation closed out the day, a bloody crime drama partly based on a true story. I say partly because it comes from a book written by a Tamil labourer in India. Arrested along with a trio of friends for no discernible reason, they were beaten savagely before the other three were separated and never seen again. The first half is horrendously brutal, the second, where we’ve reached the realm of guesswork, too meandering to match the earlier impact. Still, there is one beating that I won’t be able to shake from my mind before the festival ends.