Venice at Home – Day 5: Returning Champions – Blog
The fifth day of competition finds three award-winning filmmakers vying for more golden applause. Rebecca Zlotowsky’s directing work has left strong impressions at some of Europe’s biggest festivals, and this is her first time in Venice. His new movie, Other people’s children, stars Virginie Efira and Roschdy Zem – it is also in competition as a director with another film. Then the Italian Emanuele Crialese returns with the immensity after winning nine prizes at previous editions of the festival. Finally, there is Darren Aronofsky who is a former champion of Venice whose new project, The whaleis already enshrined in Best Actor Oscar buzz for Brendan Fraser.
So today we look back Aronofsky’s 2008 Golden Lion, Zlotowsky’s Sensual Summer and Crialese’s Journey to the New World…
AN EASY GIRL (2019)
Watching Rebecca Zlotowski An easy girl, the mind will inevitably drift into the Rohmerian ramblings. The summer setting certainly appeals to this earlier author’s favorite aesthetic, as does the model of sexual discourse as a conduit for reflections on morality, philosophy, and human behavior. The plot also feels like an inversion of Rohmer’s seaside tales. Additionally, the modern film opens with a quote from 17th-century thinker Blaise Pascal, which was so deeply discussed in Rohmer’s My night at Maud’s. Juxtaposed on a resplendent beach, it reads “The most important thing in life is to choose a job: chance arranges that”.
But what is a job? What is not? What is work? These questions become a focal point of Zlotowski’s film. The image is in a way a study on female perceptions of sexuality and sexual experience. We arrive at these conclusions by observing the story of Naïma, a 16-year-old Cannes resident who has decided that in the fall, she will have chosen what to do with her life. Her cousin Sofia arrives, determined to spend the holidays by the sea. Beautiful and liberated, the older woman uses her sex appeal to attract men and enter rich worlds of exclusivity.
The camera lingers on her body, embodying the male gaze but depicting an organized image that she herself is actively projecting. When two wealthy travelers cross the horizon on their private yacht, the cousins find their way into their luxurious lifestyle, if only for a short while. Zahia Dehar, a reality TV star and tabloid fiction, plays Sofia who is the kind of character in mainstream culture and movies tend to look down on and be judged. Zlotowski refuses such retrograde notions, allowing Sofira to emerge as a set of contradictions, philosophies of self-interest and objectification.
Sofia makes herself a fetish object, and with that comes a kind of power that should not be confused with impotence. No matter how much control men can assert, it’s a celebration of sexual agency on the part of women. Thorny and complicated, An easy girl is not an easy watch, often working in an environment of contrasting forces and divergent ideas. Its lightness is an illusion, every superficiality laden with provocation. Although one might assume that the incitement is carnal, Zlotowski’s piece appeals to the intellect, questions of class and social hierarchies. Perhaps the voice-over narration takes it a bit too far, posing the textual problematizations in a naked and visible way, but it also helps the viewer, guiding them with purpose.
An easy girl is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
GOLDEN DOOR (2006)
Just as his characters cross the Atlantic, from rural Sicily to New York, so does Emanuele Crialese golden door take a journey from naturalism to allegory. Divided into three neat acts, the film chronicles the intercontinental odyssey of the Mancuso clan. We meet them in their homeland at the beginning of the 20th century, each frame a painting of misery and splendor. The director of photography Agnès Godard respects the strict structure of her director, but we feel the seeds of unreality planted throughout the first segment of the film. Its beauty offers the possibility of abstraction and reverie.
Seeming signs from God convince the patriarch, Salvatore, to take his family to America, believing it to be a land of miracles, where vegetables grow giants and people swim in milk. At the time of departure, they cross paths with a mysterious Englishwoman who has decided to enter the United States alongside the family and marry Salvatore. Lucy’s story is never fully explained, though the camera often lingers on her incongruous figure. Crossing the ocean is not easy, a painful second act that gives way to an even more painful third. Once the immigrants arrive, Ellis Island becomes a scene of humiliation and rejection, a limbo-like prison with frosted glass windows that block the view of Lady Liberty.
Although Criasele’s script is meandering, dropping elements and clinging to others with no apparent purpose, his vision makes up for it. If Godard’s lens shines, it is also because he observes a lived world rich in historical details, exciting color stories and unique faces. Casting, makeup, costumes and set design – each department works overtime to deliver a true experience, facilitating tonal wandering into biblical symbolism and magical realism. Faith is an important point of interest, a principle for every person on screen, even those who remain in the Old World. Through this belief, golden dreams can blossom and ghosts lost in time can live again.
golden door is available for rental or purchase on Amazon Video.
THE WRESTLER (2008)
Since it was announced, I apprehend The whale. Sterling’s reviews give me hope, but Samuel D. Hunter’s piece is delicate text easily skewed by an anti-bold bias. It doesn’t help that Brendan Fraser wears a big suit and heavy prosthetics. Despite everything, I can’t wait to discover the film and make an informed judgment, whether it’s positive or not. One thing is certain – there is precedent in Aronofsky’s career for a vaguely similar story resulting in an outstanding job, with accolades at the Venice Film Festival and an Oscar-worthy actor in the lead. The best way to promote The whale is to relate it to Aronofsky’s most humanistic and generous character study, The wrestler.
Built around star Mickey Rourke from a screenplay by Robert Siegel, the film could be interpreted as a quasi-meta commentary on its central performer. And yet, whatever conclusions she reaches, they are never insensitive or reductive. Instead, the image unfolds a muscular melodrama with touches of Bressonian grace in a medium where exploited bodies are the material from which the spectacle is made. Critically, the director’s characteristic heaviness is absent from the proceedings, replaced by a searching eye that is as compassionate as it is penetrating. Compared to something like Requiem for a dream, Black SwanWhere Mother!it’s positively minimalist.
That’s not to say the film is dull or indifferent to form. On the contrary, Maryse Alberti’s cinematography is a dynamic camera feat, of elegance on a canvas with rough and grainy textures. The music and sound work are equally exceptional, but they are all designed around the characters and the actors who play them. Rourke is a galvanizing marvel, elevating the film and its making above tabloid notions of a comeback. I challenge anyone to look at their performance with an open heart without feeling a tear form. Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood provide strong support, which makes The wrestler a story of human connection, the need for companionship, forgiveness, perhaps redemption.
The wrestler airs on HBO Max, DirecTV and the Amazon Cinemax Channel.
Considering the inevitable Frasers to come, what’s your favorite performance in a Darren Aronofsky movie?