The home stretch

Oliver Assayas and cast for "After May" on the red carpet at Venice.

Today is my last full day on the Lido here at the Venice Film Festival. After a month on the road scouting new work for our cinemas, it seems fitting that my final screening in Europe will be the latest from our oldest living filmmaker, Manuel de Oliviera, who at 103 seems unstoppable. While Venice started with a whimper, the tempo and quality of the work have accelerated. Thank the cinematic gods for that!

While I usually make a point to skip the “hotly-anticipated” films, this time around they’ve been my must-sees. Unfortunately there have been some serious disappointments from masters: take for example Terrence Malick, whose To the Wonder received deserving boos from both press and public. The film clocks in at nearly two hours and tackles the omnipresent theme of love by tracking the camera slowly in towards each character, as a voice over (ala Thin Red Line) divulges an inner narrative in poetic, and sometimes not so poetic, language. The entire piece, starring Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko and Javier Bardem feels like a 117 minute channel commercial with some religion (Bardem is a preacher) thrown in for good measure. An overwhelming dissatisfaction reigned, for this programmer. And while the film lacks a US distributor, I imagine it will make its way into the Landmark theater chain if not a larger venue.

On the other hand, a master who delivered was Paul Thomas Anderson with The Master, a film projected in 70mm no less! I hear that it’ll screen at the Cinerama soon, which should be a great experience. Outstanding turns by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, with some heavy homoeroticism throughout. Although early word suggested the film would be exclusively about L Ron Hubbard’s Christ Scientology, it’s more about demagoguery. . .conviction to the unscientific could frankly serve as an interesting metaphor for a certain party in the forthcoming election.

It wasn’t all masters for me though. There were several bio-docs, most notable amongst them Harry Dean Stanton’s Partly Fiction, which made me think about mounting a Stanton retro in conjunction with a screening of this title. Also, some more self-indulgence from Marina Abromovic and Bob Wilson, who are the subject of a doc on staging a play about the latter. While Willem Defoe provides some much-needed grounding, and there are some memorable quotes, the piece over all probably won’t make it back to our theater. Spike Lee delivered a heartfelt defense of Michael Jackson’s Bad album with Bad 25, and Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell was a surprisingly insightful portrait of her own illegitimate childhood.

Expected riches from Olivier Assays, a surprisingly enjoyable work from Kim Ki Duk and some great works in the repertory section round out the noteworthy. It’s what you’d expect from a festival in transition, with a newly-emerged Rome Film Festival breathing down its proverbial neck. Regardless, the trip has been worthwhile, and I hope to return with some great work for Seattle film goers. I’m going to do my damnedest to make our screening of Abendland on Thursday, so feel free to stop by and chat me up about the festival spoils!

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