Posts Tagged ‘Venice 73’

If there were any questions left on Tom Ford’s directorial skills, Nocturnal Animals has answered them all. After his 2009 debut, A Single Man, the 55-year old fashion designer-turned-director comes back to Venice with Nocturnal Animals, a poignant and gripping tale that feels like something in between a thriller and a brutal satire of modern-day Los-Angeles’ socialites, shot with a confidence one would hardly expect from a director’s second feature.

But Ford is known for his ability to take everyone by surprise, and after his memorable entry into the world of film-making, he writes, directs and produces yet another visually mesmerising film that conveys a mixture of angst and nostalgia that stays with the viewer until the very last shot.

Susan (Amy Adams) is a Texas-born thirty-something year-old who works in an art gallery in LA. She is married to a successful business man (Armie Hammer) and lives in a dream-house overlooking Los Angeles’ skyline. Yet we know from the start hers is not a happy life. She hobnobs with LA artists who appear to be more concerned with their latest plastic surgeries than the art they make, a world which, in the memorable words of a colleague of hers, may be empty, but surely feels a lot less painful than the real one. Things change the day she receives a gruesome thriller freshly written by her former husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the novel makes her realise just how much she gave up to live the comfortable existence she now enjoys.

To some extent, Nocturnal Animals is neither revolutionary nor experimental. There are countless of films that deploy the catalyst which Ford uses to set the drama in motion: someone writes a book, that book becomes part of the film, and eventually the characters on the big screen end up relating with what was written, so that the book and the film become two intertwined worlds. But we do not know, and will only found out as the movie goes on, whether the book tells a story that Susan and Tony lived through during their years together. We do not know just what it is that attracts Susan so spasmodically about the novel and whether the book will reveal an abominable truth about her own life.

Ford is deliberately elusive about the subject, and this helps to keep the audience stuck to their seat until the film’s heart breaking ending. The camera shifts from the book to the movie effortlessly, and the transitions make for some visually stunning shots. All throughout Nocturnal Animals, Ford skilfully plays with the geometry of each scene, so much so that there are some that feel like movable paintings, in which the characters’ bodies look like perfectly crafted statues in a museum.

But this does not turn Nocturnal Animals into a collection of beautifully designed images, or – worse still – a celebration of the artificial world Susan inhabits. Far from it, LA’s arts scene and its inhabitants are constantly mocked, as Ford’s screenplay shifts back and forth from thriller to satire, ridiculing the junk-culture which Susan and her colleagues feed upon. It is this eclecticism that helps turning Nocturnal Animals into a remarkable film. Ford has written, produced and directed a film that is a joy to watch, and leaves you longing for more. It took him seven years to come back to Venice with his second feature. Hopefully the third will arrive much quicker.

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Once upon a time Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, but when he awoke he could no longer tell whether he was then a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or whether he was now a butterfly, dreaming to be a man. The story comes from an old Chinese proverb and nicely fits with the structure of Wim Wenders’ last work, Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez.

It’s a hot summer day in a countryside house in the surroundings of Paris and a lone writer is looking for inspiration. He sits before his typewriter and looks outside the window, when a lady and a man magically appear, sitting at a garden table right outside the house. We do not know whether the duo comes from the writer’s imagination, or whether the writer is a figment of their own.

Wenders does not help to solve the puzzle. Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez develops as a 97-minute long conversation between the couple (Reda Kateb and Sophie Semin), which the writer (Jens Harzer) observes and records. It is based on a play written by Austrian writer Peter Handke, with whom Wenders has worked on several occasions between the 1960s and 1980s, a fruitful teamwork that reached its peak in 1987, with the international success of Cannes’ Best Directing Award-winning Wings of Desire.

Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez marks the fifth collaboration between the two, and earned Wenders a spot amongst the twenty films selected as part of the official competition of the 73rd edition of Venice’s International Film Festival. Wenders chose to present it in 3D, a format which does not seem to add much to the film’s quality, for its strength does not come from its bucolic images, but from the couple’s conversation.

Sitting in front of each other, the two begin their chat by talking about love. He asks her about the details of her first night with a man. She is reluctant to reveal much, but when she does the conversation rapidly turns into a ritual ruled by a number of strictly obeyed laws: neither must answer the other’s questions with a yes or no answer, and no action other than dialogue must take place.

It is a long, somewhat abstract and philosophical conversation which spans from lovemaking to death, from memory to vengeance. The two recite their lines as if on a stage, to the point that one wonders whether Wenders adapted Handke’s play for the big screen, or whether he turned his own work into a play. It is the film’s greatest flaw: the dialogues, never mind how deep and rich their subtext may be, feel cold and overly theatrical, and fail to establish any degree of empathy with the audience.

At the end of Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez, one leaves the cinema with the feeling of having seen something that resembles the flowers that surrounds the two around the garden table, and which the both wax lyrically about: a beautiful and evocative tale, but one whose aura is sadly very short-lived, and fails to convey the emotions and drama which Wenders’ fans would expect from a director of his stature.

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