The 73rd edition of the Venice Film Festival began here on Wednesday evening on a wonderfully musical note called La La Land, the mirth and melody of the opening movie seemed such a need of the hour.
As the film’s star, Emma Stone, walked the Red Carpet in a gold and green gown to the notes of the movie playing in the background, a few hundred metres away the glaringly visible presence of heavily armed policemen appeared to remind us all of the terrible times we live in. Like at Cannes in May, security has been beefed up at Venice -- which in addition was unrolling to the recent tragedy of the earthquake in Italy that killed nearly 300 people. The festival cancelled its opening night bash as a mark of respect to the victims. Also, the Polish New Wave pioneer, Jerry Skolimowski, dedicated his Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement to the town of Amatrice, which was completely destroyed.
Watch the trailer of La La Land here:
However, as Stone -- who plays an aspiring actress, Mia Dolan in La La Land -- told a press conference held earlier during the day that there was no place (despite all the tragic things we see around us) for cynicism. La La Land was about “hoping, dreaming”, she averred to a loud applause from the journalists.
The La La Land director, Damien Chazelle (known for his gripping Whiplash), seconding his star’s words, said, “Now more than ever we need hope and romance on the screen. There is something about musicals that only films can do.”
And La La Land was just that, a dazzling piece of musical that reminded one of the great song-and-dance stuff that people like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as well as Gene Kelly gave us in once-upon-a-time Hollywood. Later in the 1960s, a brief attempt was made to revive this tradition with movies like The Sound of Music, Marry Poppins and My Fair Lady, and these also had strong plots. Chicago and Moulin Rouge many years after these films came did not quite work.
Will La La Land in 2016 bring back that era of story-telling through meanderingly melodious movements? Well, the film dazzled critics all right, and it seemed to have got a lot of them on a high.
To this writer, given to watching an endless number of Bollywood movies, La La Land appeared close to melodrama, albeit in a subdued form. The first shot zooms in on a traffic snarl in Los Angeles, and we see the harassed drivers emerge out of their colourful jalopies to burst into a song and dance. In the midst of all these people are Mia on her way to an audition and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician, whose enormous talent is unsung and unrecognised.
La La Land is a classic tale of escapism of the boy-meets-girl variety -- where Mia and Sebastian, in spite of all their woeful struggles, manage to fall in love, sing and dance. She fails in audition after audition, and he survives from the tips he gets playing the piano at pubs. Till, he lands a solid job, and she wins a contract that takes her to Paris. It is certainly a story right out of a dream factory.
But dreams also get shattered, and La La Land lets us go with a lump in our heart. Who said this? Sweetest are those songs that tell us of saddest tales, but La La Land is no weepie emotional run, although it liberally dips itself into poignancy.
Playing out against four seasons, La La Land gets out of the breezy motorway once Mia and Sebastian attain stardom, and they realise the impossibility of remaining a couple. Their paths part and cross again. Have we not seen this so often in Indian cinema?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Venice Film Festival.)