At Venice Film Festival, Instant Reviews and Old Age Plot Tell Their Own Tales
This year, at the ongoing Venice Film Festival, it seemed like a repeat of what happened – and has been happening – at Cannes.
Image: Youtube/ A still from The Leisure Seeker
Two years ago, the Cannes Film Festival director, Thierry Fremaux, was upset over the practice of tweeting movie reviews even as a movie was rolling. He said such half-baked comments on social networking sites were extremely harmful for a film. Also, it was so unfair for the helmer, the actors and just about everybody who was involved with the production. And how does one pass a judgement before a movie has had its complete run? Reviews needed to be well thought out, not dashed out with little or no reflection whatsoever.
(This is also increasingly the case in India, where even major newspaper web editions want their critics to send a so-called interval review - that is when the film takes a popcorn break!)
This year, at the ongoing Venice Film Festival, it seemed like a repeat of what happened – and has been happening – at Cannes. There were journalists who were busy Tweeting or writing on their mobile phones what to me seemed like mini reviews of the movies they were watching. And, besides the question of turning in a raw kind of a review, these “instant reviewers” were a bloody nuisance to all those who were trying to concentrate on what was happening on the screen and sometimes trying to figure out the riddles posed by some of the films. Yes, I like to call that cheating a viewer by foxing him at every turn.
So, it did not come as a surprise to me when the Venice Festival administration sent out a circular to all journalists – and there are 3000 of them – asking them to refrain from putting out their reviews before a movie has had its official screening, which is held later than its press show. But whether anybody followed this or not I would have no idea of finding out. But in the darkness of the auditoriums, I continued to see mobile phone lights flashing even as the images on the giants screens were flitting by. How awful!
Much like the Venice Film Festival, which now into its 74th year is aging, so too, it appears, the themes of some of the films. I have spoken earlier in these columns about Ritesh Batra's Our Souls at Night – about an elderly widow and an elderly widower – who after having remained neighbours in a small American town, finally get gutsy enough to seek company in each other.
The other work that explored old age was Paolo Virzi's English-language debut feature, The Leisure Seeker, starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland.
The Leisure Seeker begins when Ella (Mirren) – sick and dying of cancer - and her husband, John (Sutherland) – suffering from serious memory lapses drive away in their battered old Winnebago on a long road trip. The journey is fraught with all kinds of adventure. At one time, John drives away leaving Ella behind, not realising that she had been with him, and the poor woman has to jump on to a motorcycle, ridden by a well meaning young man, to catch up with her runaway husband. At another time, she faints and has to be rushed to a hospital, while John oblivious to the emergency, is busy drinking and dancing nearby, having completely forgotten about his wife.
Admittedly, despite all this, Ella and John have a good time – with riders of course – maybe for one last time, while their grown up son and daughter worry themselves to death, wondering how safe their parents are. Ella and John have of course cut themselves off – not answering their mobile phones and making it a point to call their children once in a way from a public phone booth, only to say that they are fine.
The Leisure Seeker is really hilarious, till the time the director decides to push the huge van into a tragic lane. No, there was no accident, but something equally bad that made the work so tearful.
Maybe we can have a Hindi version with Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachan playing the lead parts! What do you say?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic who is covering the Venice Film Festival)