Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Notes from Venice - Day 1

Boyd from European Films reports on the ongoing Venice Film Festival

Mood:
expectant
Weather: sultry
Films seen: Gruz 200, Se jie (Lust Caution)
Gripe of the day: jellyfish
People currently on the same square mile of earth as I am: Keira Knightley (right, portrayed by Fabrizio Maltese), James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave, Rupert Everett, Zhang Yimou, Catherine Breillat, Gregg Araki, Paul Verhoeven

The fireworks that marked the end of the Venice Film Festival opening gala and the beginning of the Atonement party on the exclusive Excelsior beach (yes, the beach where Gustav ogled Tadzio) have only just finished to pierce the eardrums of the poor inhabitants of the Venetian Lido, so it is time to check in with a first report on the 2007 edition of the oldest festival in the world.

A calm day today as the festival tries to put everything that is needed for a smooth festival run properly into place: wireless connections that are not yet working, printers that are not yet connected, passes that have gone missing, bikes that get stolen, jellyfish that sting bathers who have temporarily given up on having internet access... well you get the idea.

Opening film Atonement was generally well received, though the Italians I spoke to seemed to think it was too long and too classical in its approach. The international press seemed more taken in by exactly this sort of old-fashioned grandeur, and I tend to agree with them (I saw the film a couple of weeks ago, here's my review of Atonement).

Also on the menu today was the Competition Se jie (Lust, Caution) from Ang Lee, the director who brought us Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain. At a whopping 156 minutes, the film is something of an endurance test on the behind, and the explicit nature of the film's sex scenes will be hotly debated and might turn some people off (the keyword is "some" not "off" -- you perverts). Though completely functional and artistically viable, the lust part of Lust, Caution would be considered too explicit for a mainstream Hollywood film, let alone for a film from China!

As I have mentioned before, the trailer and the poster left me rather cold. As I suspected, they cannot do the complexity of the film justice or show some of the film's best scenes (notably the various demonstrations of positions from the Kama Sutra).

Also because of its running time (that amongst other things allows for a too leisurely and unfocused start), the film is not a full-fledged masterpiece, but one has to admire Lee for taking the no-holds-barred approach for this spy story set in 1940s Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Its two protagonists, veteran Tony Leung and newcomer Wei Tang, are both exceptional, and technical credits are extremely polished, from the period costumes and production design to the cinematography (by Brokeback's Rodrigo Prieto) and Alexandre Desplat's lush score. The characters are unforgettable, but as a whole the film feels just a bit too indulgent on the lust part of the equation. Read my full review of Se jie (Lust, Caution).

15 comments:

Stephen G said...

Great review, Boyd. I'm loving these Venice reports already! Normally, I would have to scrounge around the net for reports on Venice, so it's wonderful being able to check into Nathaniel's blog each day as normal and find them here. Looking forward to reading more as the fest unfolds...

Anonymous said...

its funny that the italians said it was too long - a variety critic who loved the film said that his only qualm was that it felt too short (breathing space he called it)- i guess that meant it was breathtaking!?!

Nick M. said...

Your minor criticisms of Lust, Caution just make me more excited for the film.

Nick M. said...

Atonement, however, not so much. Those "let's try to recapture old Hollywood grandeur" films always strike me as annoyingly artificial.

rural juror said...

oh, I should be there damnit. I've been waiting for Atonement for so long.

etslee said...

Nothing would give me more pleasure than sitting down for over 2 hrs with an Ang Lee film. Thanks for the review, I can't wait..

Anonymous said...

I hope you can also watch and tell us about movies from the paralel seccions. The main competition will have tons of coverage. Or, do you know any blogger that do?

Chinese Odyssey said...

Thanks,Boyd.

Too bad that both Hollywood Reporter and Variety gave negative review to Lust, Caution.

I hope Tang Wei can at least win Marcello Mastroianni Award.

Kamila said...

Congratulations on the Venice report. I think that, with the nice reviews, "Atonement" confirms its name as the frontrunner to the Oscars 2008.

Keira looked so beautiful!

Emma said...

Keira looks skeletal.

Boyd said...

I'm a bit surprised by the negative reviews of Lust, Caution. It's not perfect by any means, but it is a very good piece work of that works according to its own logic. Atonement may be more classical filmmaking and finally be judged the better film, but Ang Lee's latest is certainly the most daring work of the two, which should count for something.

And anonymous: parallel sections coverage coming up!

daveylow said...

I wondering if Lust, Caution is one of those films that will be appreciated more a few years later. Or if the Hollywood Reporter and Variety critics were expecting something more like a thriller than a slow paced melodrama?

Chinese Odyssey said...

Lust, Caution is getting good reviews from most chinese trade paper, a bit contrary to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

UnBlogDePelícula said...

I'm really anxious to watch Atonement and Lust,Caution. In Lust,C. I expect to see an outstanding cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto.

Anonymous said...

So let's distill this then.

"Atonement" = 2007 Best Picture?