Venice Film Festival: Film Reviews

You have to take the rough with the smooth at film festivals. Sometimes the films are so impenetrable that boos break out among those left by the end. Sometimes the applause lasts for a full two minutes and nobody leaves early. One of the most popular films so far has been Canadian Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival which has Amy Adams as a young lecturer who saves the world from an alien invasion and from the stupidity of mankind facing it. It is one of those sci-fi movies which attempts a thoroughly human face rather than heaps and heaps of dynamic special effects. Adams is about to give a lecture on a scientific subject when she looks up and sees a much smaller than usual audience. What’s more, they are all looking anxiously at their computer news screens. Anyway, it is clear that most nations of the world face some sort of threat and, in Montana where Adams lectures, the National Guard has already been called out. Fighter planes buzz overhead and a general panic has manifested itself. Then we see a giant half globe descending on earth and, for some reason never quite explained, Adams has to don anti-radioactive clothes and is driven out to meet whoever or whatever is controlling the machine.

It would be a pity to divulge how she does it. But suffice to say she is not painted as a heroine but as an anxious mother with a baby who simply has to do what she has to do. In the end, even General Chang of the Peoples Liberation Army congratulates her and so does everyone else. But Villeneuve, whose last film was the violent thriller Sicario, has here adopted a more philosophical approach to a film which has already been dubbed Blade Runner 2. He clearly wants to tell us that love triumphs over hate, with both alien forces and humans. And that the important thing to remember is that the future generation (ie babies) are what is vital in the world. The film is not a colourful one, with suitably muted cinematography and a sense of realism many such stories eschew. Maybe that’s not the best news for the box-office but it makes for a more intelligent movie of the genre all the same.

The Light Between Oceans, adapted from M L Stedman’s best-selling novel and made in a far off part of Australia that fair takes the breath away, has Michael Fassbender has a young lighthouseman who marries his lover (Alicia Vikander) and tries for a child. But twice his wife is unsuccessful and she gets more and more desperate to conceive. Then something happens that will almost ruin the loving couples lives. A boat arrives at the windy seashore and in it is a dead man and a live baby. The temptation is too great. They bury the man and adopt the baby, hoping no one else will know or care. But their secret is exposed when a local woman (Rachel Weisz) on the island appeals for her missing husband and baby, apparently lost at sea. This the stuff of melodrama (who will eventually get the child and what effect will the little girls two mothers have on her tender psyche). As the film slowly progresses, its final plot twists seem more and more unlikely. It is also far too long at 137 minutes. But the acting is good enough to assuage most doubts and the cinematography lovingly details the extraordinary scenery it inhabits. This is what used to be called a woman’s picture. But if you say that now all hell might break loose. So I won’t!

One of the scandals of latter-day filmgoing is the way they make you pay extra for 3D productions. One hopes they don’t do it for Wim Wenders new film, made in French with Italian subtitles for the festival. Quite why it is in 3D is a puzzle many are trying to work out since it simply has two actors (Sophie Semin and Rada Keteb) talking to each other in a garden about love and death and such things. The scenery is nice and Peter Handke’s screenplay could be called poetic. But I can’t see it in the cinema nor adding much to Wenders already uneven reputation. The film is called Les beaux jours d’Aranjuez and there were not many left in the theatre by the end of its 90 minutes or so.