Venice Film Festival 2011: The S&S blog

Day two: American life

The Ides of March

The Ides of March

Guido Bonsaver, 2 September

Film of the day

Do we buy the talk that the Toronto Film Festival has become a better Oscar predictor than Venice? Judging from the size and quality of the US contingent in Venice, it appears many in Hollywood don’t. Day One opened with George Clooney’s The Ides of March, a welcome return to politically engaged filmmaking by the ever-popular American actor and four-time director. It couldn’t have been a more glamourous start for Venice. Since Clooney’s recent relationship with Italian model and tentative-actress Elisabetta Canalis, there has never been a more sought-after Hollywood star in Italy.

The Ides of March continues Clooney’s exploration of US media-driven society, moving from the world of journalism in Good Night and Good Luck (2005) to that of politics. Ryan Gosling plays a disillusioned young campaign manager to Clooney’s Democrat governor and presidential candidate. The film explores the Machiavellian plots and unethical compromises forced by realpolitik and, being entirely set within a Democrat camp, clearly bespeaks the disillusionment that has followed the great hopes aroused by Barak Obama’s presidency.

Aesthetically, it’s sophisticated and polished. It’s also flawlessly acted by Gosling, Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Evan Rachel Wood. The latter may not be the future star that some claim, but she delivers convincingly as a young femme fatale. Whether or not The Ides of March proves a Golden Lion winner, or Oscar vehicle for one of its actors, it’s well worth watching.


Along similar ideological lines, though a totally different cinematic animal, is Roman Polanski’s Carnage. Set in contemporary New York, the film humorously strips two well-bred and -educated New York couples down to their most primal prejudices and impulses. Once more, there’s a sense of North American progressive culture probing itself in the mirror.

The film is entirely carried by its four masterclass lead performances. Critics will be divided between Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster (I favour the latter) but John Reilly and Cristoph Waltz prove the best punchbags any actress could wish for. It’s only a pity that the script and setting remain umbilically bound to the original stage play by Yasmina Reza, who co-wrote the screenplay.

I’d rather be your lover

As for the red carpet, if anybody can rival Clooney in popularity it’s the star who beached at the Lido on Day Two. Enter Madonna Louise Ciccone.

W.E. is the second film she’s directed, but as soon as she reached shore it was clear the Venetian crowd was first and foremost interested in her public persona. Her entrance for her film’s screening at the Cinema Palace was greeted with ovations and chants worthy of a football team. And at the end of her press conference – allegedly attended only by journos – it was shocking to see the rapacious speed with which about a hundred onlookers rushed to the front in hope of an autograph.



As for the press conference itself, Madonna was at her razor-sharp best. Could she forgo being the Queen of Pop for a man or a woman she loved, in the vein of the heroine of her film? “Hell, no,” she shot back. “I’m sure I could have both – no, better, all three in one go.”

At the same time, the hawkish attention with which she followed the answers and comments of her actors, leaning towards the speakers, smiling or not in response to their words, gave the impression of a demanding director, or perhaps of one insecure in the face of an imperfect product.

For as lavish and ambitious the film is, the parallel between Wallis Simpson’s royal love story and the broken marriage of a Simpson-obsessed woman living in today’s New York fails to deliver narrative substance or aesthetic coherence. If W.E. was supposed to make us rethink the life of the American divorcee of the century, it didn’t work.

We do learn about Simpson, but the constant emphasis on her luxurious life – with not-so-naive references to Cartier, Chanel and other luxury-goods makers – reflected by the life of her contemporary ‘other’, hardly engages us with their oh-so-difficult decisions faced between champagne meetings and poodle parties. And the odd surprising camera move or unusual mis en scène isn’t consistent or original enough to make one hark at cinematic genius. In the end, I was left nostalgic for the less self-conscious or creative but more convincing tone of Clooney’s film.

Light at the end of the tunnel

One small pearl in these first two days was a documentary. Victor Kossakovsky’s Vivan las Antipodas (Long Live the Antipodes!) is a mesmerising homage to a thought we’ve all entertained: what if we could dig a hole through the planet and emerge on the other side? What would we see? Geographers tell us that it would usually be a wet experience since in most cases there’s a bit of ocean on the other side. But the Russian director has travelled to four places which have dry land at their antipodes.

Vivan las Antipodas

Vivan las Antipodas

Subject matter and cinematic experimentation merge coherently, since the theme licenses Kossakovsky to invent original compositions and camera movements to convey the rotundity of the earth, and the similarity of far-flung places as diverse as downtown Shanghai and a Patagonian wasteland, or as spookily similar (even in terms of their animal and human presences) as a Hawaiian island and its antipode in Botswana.

The overall, even aside from the recurrent beauty of the photography, is humbling. We get a real sense of our life on earth – little more than fistfuls of ants rummaging around on the crust of a big and beautiful planet.

« Preview: The Brits are sailing

Day three: Sexual healing »

See also

The American reviewed by Michael Atkinson (December 2010)

Good Night and Good Luck previewed by Geoffrey Macnab (November 2005)

The man who wasn’t there: Philip Horne on Roman Polanski’s The Ghost (May 2010)

The Next Best Thing reviewed by Kevin Maher (August 2000)

Last Updated: 04 Sep 2011