In his dispatch from the 2009 Venice Film Festival, which kicked off Wedesday, Shane Danielsen notes that “the competition this year looks, on paper at least, to be back to fighting-strength – a thrilling mixture of cultures and generations, with capital-A arthouse titans (Jacques Rivette, Claire Denis, Yonfan) pitted against smart genre technicians (Romero, Tsukamoto, Soi Cheang), plus some interesting debutantes (former Gucci creative director Tom Ford, Israel’s Samuel Maoz). Plus Michael Moore.” Danielsen comes down hard on the fest’s opener though, Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Baarìa” which he calls “crass, hectoring and buffoonish.”
Roderick Conway Morris at the New York Times has assessments of a couple of the festival’s most anticipated films: Todd Solondz’s “Life During Wartime,” a quasi-sequel to “Happiness,” and John Hillcoat’s “The Road,” an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel starring Viggo Mortensen. Morris calls “Happiness” “a serious film about guilt and forgiveness, about pedophilia and how the paranoia it inspires has come to poison normal human relations and innocent displays of affection — but it is told in Mr. Solondz’s often very funny, deadpan, surreal manner” and writes that “The Road” is a “menacing, bleak, suspenseful drama shot with an almost monochrome, austere beauty, with impressive performances from both Mr. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee.”
The trades are equally enthusiastic about Solondz’s film. “In revisiting his darkly comic 1998 ensembler ‘Happiness,’ Todd Solondz may have made his best film with ‘Life During Wartime,” writes Todd McCarthy in Variety. “The distinctive, boundary-pushing writer-director has had the eccentric inspiration to resurrect the same central characters a decade later, but using entirely different actors.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Deborah Young calls “Life” “a heady mix of deadpan humor that boldly uses such topics as pedophilia, race and terrorism to plead the need for forgiveness at a personal and national level.”
“What a haunting, harrowing, powerful film this is,” writes Xan Brooks in his enthuasiastic review of John Hillcoat’s “The Road.” “Before last night’s premiere there were rumours that its lengthy post-production period (the movie was actually shot back in February 2008) spelled signs of a troubled, sickly production. By and large, those fears have now proved to be unfounded.” Todd McCarthy at Variety would seem to disagree, however, writing that “Except for the physical aspects of this bleak odyssey by a father and son through a post-apocalyptic landscape, this long-delayed production falls dispiritingly short on every front.”
Werner Herzog’s loose remake of Abel Ferrara’s cult classic “Bad Lieutenant,” meanwhile, has been getting decidedly mixed reviews from critics. David Hudson at the Auteurs has a round up of the press the film’s been getting.
Finally, there’s been more than a little political drama surrounding two films at the festival: Erik Gandini’s “Videocracy,” which takes a critical look at the media empire that Italy’s prime minister has built, and Bobby Paunescu’s “Francesca,” which Alessandra Mussolini has sought to suppress because of a controversial statement it makes about her.