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Venice Film Festival tells stories about love for animals, and love for cocaine money

At the Venice Film Festival 2017, Gautam Bhaskaran reviews the premier of two very different films

Gautaman Bhaskaran | News18

Updated:September 6, 2017, 11:19 AM IST
Venice Film Festival tells stories about love for animals, and love for cocaine money
A YouTube still from the trailer of 'Lean on Pete'
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Lean On Pete

British director Andrew Haigh's competing title, Lean On Pete, at the ongoing 74th edition of the Venice Film Festival reminded me of the misplaced love we in India have for animals. While some months ago, we saw in Tamil Nadu a huge uprising supporting Jallikattu, a bull-taming sport in which both men and beasts can die, Lean on Pete tells us a moving story of 15-year-old Charlie (essayed by Charlie Plummer) whose enormous love for a sick race horse sees him through his hard life.

With a mother having walked out on his father, and with a father who tries his very best to make it something of a home for his son, at least at night, Charlie's life has been reduced to mere pancakes for breakfast and a chance to stay at school long enough to play football. But when the father dies from a wound that turns poisonous, the boy's life goes haywire. With nothing to look forward to except a race horse, Lean On Pete, which again is all set to be shot dead, he steals it from the owner and runs away in the hope of finding his aunt who lives in a faraway town and with whom his father has had a bad relationship.

As the movie unfolded and as I watched Charlie's overwhelming concern for the horse and the sacrifices he makes to take it safe across the countryside, I was left wondering how cruel Tamils can be – when they fight for a bloody sport that can only be sheer torture for the bull as it is chased within an enclosed space by a dozen or so men trying to subdue it – all in the name of manliness and pride and culture. Surely, a movie like Lean On Pete stands in contrast to what we in India pass off as love for animals!


Loving Pablo

Spanish helmer Fernando Leon de Aranoa's Loving Pablo gets two great actors, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz together once again after their fiery and passionate on-screen romance in Woody Allen's sparkling Vicky Cristina Barcelona in 2008. Both Bardem and Cruz have been married since then, and in their latest outing they once again breathe fire in a story about the Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar.

Bardem -- whose range has been phenomenal from No Country for Old Men (where he plays a terrifying mad criminal) to Vicky Cristina Barcelona (a loverboy who takes three women to bed) to Skyfall (where as the evil genius he sends Judi Dench's M to her grave, a goodbye to her James Bond career) – is fantastic as the ruthless drug baron in Loving Pablo, a work which shows how he floods the American market with cocaine (that got him the title of Cocaine King), even while teaching his little son never to touch the white powder!

Cruz has been in more than one way the discovery of the legendary Spanish master, Pedro Almodovar (with such classics as All About My Mother, Volver, Julieta and so on ), and has invariably been her best in his creations, and certainly in her native Spanish language. But in Loving Pablo, which is mostly in English, she is impressive as a journalist, Virginia Vallejo. Her intimate association with Pablo for many years that resulted in a book has been the inspiration behind Aranoa's work.

During an interview, the director said, "Vallejo' viewpoint is very interesting: Very close and gritty.The book that she wrote proposes a journey, from the dazzling power and opulence that Escobar projected at first to the reality behind, the darkness, pain and tragedy. It’s a journey that Virginia makes, and the film and the Colombian society as well”.

Loving Pablo explores the seedy world of the drug lord with its violence, murder and mayhem. He is supposed to have invented drug trading and 'Sicariato' or contract killing. His money-laundering business was unimaginably huge, and all this has been portrayed in the movie with striking power and candid scripting. And as Aranoa quipped, “Pablo's story also gels with the Colombian magic realist literature”.

Pablo created magic all right, but for himself and for his family – and well, for some time, for Virginia. But for many others he created Hell.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic who is covering the Venice Film Festival)
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