Venice Diary #01 – Tár, White Noise and Princess – Blog
by Elisa Giudici
Hello readers! It’s Venice time again. As with previous festivals, I will review the films with some details about the festival experience. I screened three and a half films (we’ll see half at the end) on the first day of the Mostra. The Official Opening Night Movie White noise and Princess in the Orizzonti section were a bit disappointing although both were far from failures. On the bright side, Cate Blanchett really delivers in Tar.
But first something a bit scary as Venice starts off on the wrong foot. This year, the Sala Darsena (the main screening room for press and industry) seems to be… cursed? During the screening of White noise a bat (a real, real bat!) flew in front of the screen…
Later during the 158 minute broadcast of Tar the image was interrupted several times by what appeared to be double images like residual ghosting, the kind you might see if you try to watch a 3D movie without the glasses. I assure you that Tar is not in 3D, whatever the dimension of Cate Blanchett’s game. In addition, the subtitles disappeared during the parts spoken in German. Scary!
Good for reviews.
WHITE NOISE (Noah Baumbach, USA)
With his latest film, Baumbach steps out of his comfort zone of small independent films. We are still dealing with intimate relationships of couples, but this time death is in the brain. Jack (Adam Driver) and Babette (Greta Gerwig) continue to talk about how they will die first and imagine themselves as old people. Reminders of death are pervasive and pervasive… become like, you guessed it, white noise. Adapting any Don De Lillo novel would be a challenge and it certainly is with White noise. Baumbach, who has always been a strong writer, pretty much handles the adaptation, after all. The biggest change is the update/upgrade of the female lead (Greta Gerwig), but there are several cuts and some condensation of events and scenes, all with Baumbach trying to maintain the distinctive way in which De Lillo’s characters act and speak. As a director, Baumbach wants to prove that he is more than a great writer. The camera work is visibly more refined than in his previous films. Baumbach even proves capable of the kind of large-scale sets he’s never attempted before, like the one here in which a truck crashes into a train, causing an “airborne toxic event.” This sequence is a major turning point in the story and a powerful reminder that death is always around the corner.
Adam Driver in the lead role still feels believable in his actions and dialogue, even when the eccentricity of De Lillo’s novel turns Baumbach’s adaptation into a fictionalized version of a “realistic” story. In a few passages, the feeling is like witnessing a very clever idea explained in words, then transformed into sights and sounds that make it improbable. Greta Gerwig, however, struggles to feel “natural” in such a staged film. White noise is more ingenious and ambitious than Baumbach’s last feature, Marriage story, it’s not as resonant or emotionally accessible. Rather, it focuses on ideas: consumerism, capitalism and traditional weddings in the 1980s.
Baumbach’s visual cinema is more refined but he is more than a little satisfied with his own intelligence. The style of director White noise has a few treats for moviegoers who like to be guided both verbally and visually about the protagonist’s feelings and relationships. Sometimes Baumbach is anything but showing off – pay attention to the ending title sequence.
Princess (Roberto de Paolis, Italy)
De Paolis wanted to tell a story about migrants in Europe from their perspective, so he befriended a small group of Nigerian prostitutes working the streets and woods around Rome. One of them, Glory Kevin, was cast as the protagonist and titular character. The film focuses on the feelings, struggles, emotional detachment and money-driven attitude of this young sex worker in Italy. Glory Kevin is a gem but the film lacks a strong point to make. We get a memorable and depressing gallery of customers that Princess has to deal with: a guy who accompanies their “old man” into the woods to fuck, workers who want to check the softness of her ass like “a sofa before buying it”, guys pretending to bump into her in the middle of the woods. Etc.
Depicting the lives of a small group of Nigerian prostitutes with actors playing fictionalized versions of themselves is a good start but not a satisfying ending to what is essentially a narrative film. It’s almost as if, to avoid any accusations of white saviorism by outsiders, De Paolis is scrambling to find a way to wrap up the story. The princess and her friends are always convincing as they try to maintain a sense of beauty, dignity and belonging, while being detached from their home country and their families in a country where they hide as than irregular. All in all, it’s the same feeling I had after seeing De Paolis’ previous film, Cuori Puribut for what it’s worth, other critics appreciated his work much more.
TÁR (Todd Field, USA)
How lucky is Cate Blanchett to be introduced to such a complex, intricate, contradictory, and nuanced character by a director who wrote a 158-minute film while considering her as the main protagonist? Blanchett deserves it, of course, and repays Field with an outstanding performance. She is a brilliant conductor and a sharp and sophisticated thinker. She is not always what she projects at first sight, but sometimes quite the opposite. In short, Lydia Tàr is many things at once. While Cate is phenomenal, Noemi Merlant and Nina Hoss are also incredible, in supporting roles. The things these two can say to Lydia and the audience with one intense stare!
As well as being a thought-provoking character study and reflection on professional women and the capitalist, misogynistic world in which they operate, Tar is also a film about political correctness and cancel culture. Initially, it does not push us to take sides hoping to go beyond the simplistic “with or against” approach to a more insightful vision of cultural change. While he’s doing all of this, he’s too an expansive and technical portrait of the highly specialized world of contemporary classical music, both elitist and bourgeois. And then there is the structure. The first hour is almost a mockumentary about this fictional conductor before the film begins to unveil his true intentions and begins a more thrilling and suspenseful approach.
In short, the only thing that stands between Cate and another Oscar is how demanding Field’s film will be for audiences.
The goal is not to put more women in heroic roles. It’s producing, writing and directing films that prove that a woman can be anything. She can even be both victim and culprit, wrong and right in a complex narrative that revolves around her.
And finally the half-movie…
Stonewalling (Huang Ji & Ryūji Otsuka, China)
While the public in Venice is generally engaged Stone wall quickly lost members of the public, providing no points of interest. It’s not only slow to introduce the main topic (abortion in China after the end of the one-child policy) but boring and pointless. Emotionally heavy scenes centering on the protagonist’s unwanted pregnancy, both as a personal problem and as a possible solution to her debts (she could sell the baby?) occupy the same place in the film as tedious shots of her descending stairs, walking down the street, doing nothing in particular. The inability to prioritize shots by importance (or at least create a distinctive atmosphere with the less narrative scenes) is deadly and gives off amateurish vibes. Nearly a third of the audience had disappeared after the first hour. I lasted about half an hour longer although there was still a full hour to go.