Thursday, 28 September 2017

Critical Week: Into the woods

It's been another very long week for me, with screenings of films both heading for regular cinemas and featuring in the forthcoming London Film Festival. Some movies fit in both categories, of course. One of the bigger ones was Goodbye Christopher Robin, the AA Milne biopic starring Domhnall Gleeson and Margot Robbie. It's gorgeously produced and thankfully much grittier than expected. Another surprise was Stronger, the biopic starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a man injured in the Boston Marathon bombing. Completely lacking in rah-rah patriotism, the film is a gruelling, expertly told story of a flawed man everyone called a hero.

Also heading for cinemas are the documentary Earth: One Amazing Day, which puts stunning footage from the BBC's Planet Earth II up on the big screen, with some added scenes. The Unseen is a British film set up as a Hitchcockian thriller about a couple haunted by the death of their son. Double Date is a British comedy thriller that's gleefully grisly and funny without being scary. And Furious Desires is a collection of lusty short films from Brazil, Mexico and Italy.

London Film Festival offerings included Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in the surreal thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the witty and pointed black comedy Brigsby Bear, Michael Haneke's offbeat comical drama Happy End, Aidan Gillen in the improvised comedy-drama Pickups, the simply gorgeous Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman, the powerfully moving French drama 120 Beats Per Minute, the cleverly scary Icelandic thriller Rift and the thoughtful Finnish romance A Moment in the Reeds. There were also two Israeli films: the sharply inventive Foxtrot and the gently moving romance The Cakemaker. More on those coming soon.

Up this week are Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049, Kate Winslet in The Mountain Between Us, Jessica Chastain in Molly's Game and Josh Hartnett in 6 Below. The 61st BFI London Film Festival officially kicks off on Wednesday, and press screenings include Julianne Moore in Wonderstruck, Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes, Cate Blanchett in Manifesto, Carey Mulligan in Mudbound, Clio Barnard's Dark River, Sean Baker's The Florida Project and Michel Hazanavicius' Redoubtable. My daily LFF updates will start next Thursday.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Critical Week: Take a break

Press screenings for the 61st BFI London Film Festival started on Monday, and first out of the block were films that have a UK release coming up soon after the festival ends (it runs 4-15 Oct). I'll write more about these movies during the festival itself, including full reviews of many of them. But this week I saw Luca Guadagnino's exquisite Call Me By Your Name starring Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet (above), Aubrey Plaza in the snappy black comedy Ingrid Goes West, Russian master Andrey Zvyagintsev's excellent Loveless, Japanese master Takashi Miike's gritty and layered samurai epic Blade of the Immortal, the quirky Zambian satire I Am Not a Witch, and the fascinating doc The Prince of Nothingwood about an outrageous Afghan filmmaker.

As for non-festival movies, since there were no press screenings I could attend, I had to buy a ticket to see Kingsman: The Golden Circle at my local cinema on Wednesday morning. It's good fun, in a nutty sort of way, but pales in comparison to the transgressive original. Reese Witherspoon and Michael Sheen showed up in person (pics on Instagram!) to introduce their new film Home Again, along with writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer and producer Nancy Meyers. It's the perfect film for people who love sappy movies about perfect white people. Much scruffier, Big Bear is a rather clunky Hangover-style bachelor party movie that turns violent. Shot is a riveting drama tracing the impact of a gunshot from a variety of angles. The Ritual is a twisty and atmospheric thriller about a group of Brits lost in a very creepy Swedish woodland. And In Between is the terrific Israeli comedy-drama that has caused all kinds of controversy in its homeland for its depiction of free-thinking Palestinian women.

Coming up this next week, we have the AA Milne biopic Goodbye Christopher Robin, Adam Sandler in The Meyerowitz Stories and the nature doc Earth: One Amazing Day. London Film Festival screenings include Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger, Claire Foy in Breathe, Michael Haneke's Happy End, Robin Campillo's 120 BPM, the black comedy Brigsby Bear, the Aussie thriller 1%, the Israeli drama Foxtrot, and the Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman. Yes, it'll be another busy one!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Critical Week: Smile for the camera

This week was supposed to be a quiet pause to regain my breath after the Venice Film Festival and to get ready for the London Film Festival - press screenings start on Monday in advance of the festival itself (4-15 Oct). But it hasn't worked out like that. This was a busy week too! Screenings included the new Armando Ianucci film The Death of Stalin, a hilariously pointed political comedy set in 1953 Moscow with an ace cast of scene-stealers including Jason Isaacs, Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin and Jeffrey Tambor (pictured above with others).

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell are excellent in the skilfully made British comedy-drama Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, based on a memoir about the final years of Oscar-winning screen siren Gloria Grahame. Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts shine in the gripping and sometimes a bit murky The Glass Castle, based on a memoir about growing up with anti-establishment parents.

Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf take on the title roles in Borg vs McEnroe, a lively, beautifully observed biopic about the iconic tennis rivalry, set during the 1980 Wimbledon final. Robert Pattinson plays a low-life criminal loser in Good Time, a luridly stylish all-night odyssey that stretches credibility but holds the interest. And an ensemble of solid British actors features in Brakes, a multi-strand improvised movie about break-ups that's scruffy and funny.

In the diary for this next week is a mix of festival and mainstream films: Reese Witherspoon in Home Again,Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name, Lola Kirke and Zoe Kravitz in Gemini, the horror thriller The Ritual, Russian marital drama Loveless, Japanese action movie Blade of the Immortal, Zambian drama I Am Not a Witch,arthouse thriller Let the Corpses Tan and Afghan filmmaker doc The Prince of Nothingwood.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Venezia74: Celebrations on Day 11

The 74th Venice Film Festival came to a close tonight with a starry awards ceremony at which Guillermo del Toro unsurprisingly took the top prize for his superb The Shape of Water. Earlier in the day I spent a couple of hours out in the sunshine and then caught my final film of the festival (see below). Here the winners in the bigger categories and sections, as well as my 10 favourite films of the festival...

Grand Jury Prize: FOXTROT
Director: Xavier Legrand (CUSTODY)
Actress: Charlotte Rampling (HANNAH)
Actor: Kamel El Basha (THE INSULT)    
Special Jury Prize: SWEET COUNTRY
Mastroianni Award: Charlie Plummer (LEAN ON PETE)
Lion of the Future: Xavier Legrand (CUSTODY)
Glory to the Filmmaker: Stephen Frears
Lifetime Achievement: Jane Fonda and Robert Redford

Film: NICO, 1988
Director: Vahid Jalilvand (NO DATE, NO SIGNATURE)
Jury Prize: CANIBA
Actress: Lyna Khoudri (LES BIENHEUREUX)
Actor: Navid Mohammadzadeh (NO DATE, NO SIGNATURE)
Scr: Dominique Welinski and Rene Ballesteros (LOS VERSOS DEL OLVIDO)

Venice Days
People's Choice: LONGING
Director: Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza (CANDELARIA)

Critics' Week

Queer Lion: MARVIN
Fipresci - Debut Film: Kim Nguyen (LOS VERSOS DEL OLVIDO)
Fedeora - Film: EYE ON JULIET
Fedeora - Debut Dir: Sara Forestier (M)
Fedeora - Actor: Redouanne Harjane (M)

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Lean on Pete
  3. M
  4. Custody
  5. The Third Murder
  6. Suburbicon
  7. The Shape of Water
  8. Love and Bullets
  9. Nico, 1988
  10. Brawl in Cell Block 99

dir-scr Sara Forestier; with Sara Forestier, Redouanne Harjane 17/Fr ****.
An unusually involving and offbeat romance, this is a remarkably assured writing-directing debut for actress Sara Forestier. With a clever premise, the film brings two marginalised people together, forcing them to address personal issues they would rather hide from the world. Forestier packs the film with little unexpected details about these characters, both of whom are so beautifully played that we can't help but root for them as we vividly identify with their longing and frustration as well as their joy.

I'll be straight back into screenings in London starting on Monday, and this coming week includes Borg vs McEnroe, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, The Glass Castle and Brakes.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Venezia74: Be a team player on Day 10

The sun was out again today at the Venice Film Festival, a relief after the deluge and ongoing wash-out last night on the Lido. There's definitely a sense that things are winding down here. Most journalists are gone, the films seem oddly less glamour-intensive and those of us still hanging in there are looking a bit like the walking undead. The collateral sections gave out their prizes this evening at the Venice Days villa on the beach, so we were very glad the weather held for us today. Here are the three films I watched...

Man Hunt
dir John Woo; with Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama 17/Jpn ***.
John Woo returns to his roots with this rampaging action movie, which also pays homage to the history of Japanese cinema as an innocent man tries to clear his name. Set in the present, but shot in cheesy 1970s style, the film is a lot of fun with its convoluted plot and breathtakingly choreographed action scenes. It also features all the Woo trademarks, from shattered glass to fluttering doves. And bullets, lots of bullets.

dir Andrea Pallaoro; with Charlotte Rampling, Andre Wilms 17/Bel ***
With barely any plot development or dialog, this film is essentially a cold exercise in watching a person deal with the collapse of her family. Fortunately, she's played by Charlotte Rampling, an actress who rivets the audience even when she's just watching something happen off-screen. Which she does a lot in this movie. But in her eyes, the emotions of the situation are very real, even if we never quite understand why.

Custody [Jusqu'à la Garde]
dir-scr Xavier Legrand; with Denis Menochet, Lea Drucker 17/Fr ****
A punchy drama that grips the audience with a complex situation and shifting characters, this French film only gradually reveals the truth about the dissolution of a marriage. Writer-director Xavier Legrand and his skilled cast take a bold and intense approach to a story that unfolds through a series of perspective-shifting encounters. It's often painful to watch, building to a confrontation that leaves us deeply shaken.

Tomorrow is the last day of the festival, so I'll try to catch up with a couple of things I missed. And then the big awards presentation is in the evening, so I'm looking forward to some upset decisions from Annette Bening and her jury.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Venezia74: Have a holiday on Day 9

I only saw two films today at the Venice Film Festival, a welcome relief after seeing four most days over the past week. In between, I crossed over from Lido to Venice once again for a day of sightseeing, museums and food. Then back to Lido for our jury deliberations in a deluge of rain. Here are today's films...

Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno
dir Abdellatif Kechiche; with Shain Boumedine, Salim Kechiouche 17/Fr ***.
Another very long, strikingly naturalistic film by Abdellatif Kechiche, this loosely plotted drama is packed with beautiful young people who spend the summer either on the beach or at the disco. The Arabic word "Mektoub" roughly translates as "it is destiny", so clearly the filmmaker has bigger things on his mind. But the remarkably engaging scenes are weakened by camerawork that echoes the most misogynist characters, relentlessly gazing on women's bodies.

Racer and the Jailbird [Le Fidèle]
dir Michael R Roskam; with Matthias Schoenaerts, Adele Exarchopoulos 17/Bel ***.
Filmmaker Michael Roskam reteams once again with Matthias Schoenaerts for this personal drama set against the criminal scene in Belgium. More of an epic romance than a thriller, the film has plenty of emotional moments that draw the audience into the central romance. Although it's all perhaps a bit too dark for its own good, as the film runs out of hope before we're ready to give up on these people.

Tomorrow: Charlotte Rampling in Hannah, John Woo's Manhunt and the French drama Custody. There;'s also the awards presention for the parallel section prizes.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Venezia74: Taking aim on Day 8

Italian films are notoriously hit and miss here at the Venice Film Festival, perhaps because so many filmmakers are friends with programmers. So it was great to see one that was so hugely enjoyable this morning, and met with a big roar of approval from the crowd at the screening. I have now seen all of the films in contention for this year's Queer Lion prize, and our jury will meet tomorrow to hash out who our winner will be. Here's what I saw today - I skipped a fourth film tonight, just for my own personal sanity...

Love and Bullets [Ammore e Malavita]
dir Antonio Manetti, Marco Manetti; with Giampaolo Morelli, Raiz 17/It ****
The Manetti brothers find a fresh angle on the usual Naples crime thriller. The plot may be fairly typical, but it unfolds as a musical comedy with terrific songs and a continual stream of hilarious gags. While many jokes may be limited to Italian viewers, the approach is so witty that it crosses over to wider audiences, with a gleefully entertaining mix of dark drama, broad slapstick, some wonderfully elaborate musical numbers and quite a bit of surprisingly resonant emotion.

Sweet Country
dir Warwick Thornton; with Sam Neill, Hamilton Morris 17/Aus ***.
With a gentle pace that echoes the rhythms of life in turn-of-the-century rural Australia, this slow-burning dramatic Western quietly creeps up on the audience. It offers deep themes and detailed character, plus a vivid depiction of the clash between the Aboriginals and the European interlopers. The film's setting may echo other movies, but the tone is distinctly more internalised, exploring the true nature of justice in a seriously unjust place.

The Prince and the Dybbuk
dir-scr Elwira Niewiera, Piotr Rosolowski; with Rosemary Mankiewicz, Angelo Manzini 17/Pol ***
This experimental documentary explores notorious Polish filmmaker Michal Waszynski. And its rather slippery since its subject continually reinvented himself, erasing his past to forge ever more glamorous futures as a prince in exile. Clearly he was haunted by something from his past, as evidenced in his iconic 1937 film The Dybbuk, about a close friendship between two Yiddish boys. The film's loose structure is frustrating for audiences who would like to know the full story, but the film has hypnotic charm.

Tomorrow is a quieter day: Matthias Schoenaerts in Le Fidele and Abdellatif Kechiche's three-hour opus Mektoub, My Love.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Venezia74: Stand by your man on Day 7

It was a double dose of Javier Bardem today at the 74th Venice Film Festival. I spotted him out on the red carpet this evening with Jennifer Lawrence for Mother!, and he is also in town with his wife and fellow Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz for their Escobar biopic Loving Pablo. It was another sunny, warm day on the Lido, and journalists are starting to look downright bleary after spending so much time in the cinemas. But there are only four days to go. Here's what I watched today...

Loving Pablo
dir-scr Fernando Leon de Aranoa; with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz 17/Sp ***
This film is based on the memoir by Virginia Vallejo, and if it had stuck to her perspective it might have been a striking new approach to the well-worn story of Medellin drug lord Pablo Escobar. But Spanish filmmaker Fernando Leon de Aranoa tries to include extensive detail about the rise and fall of Escobar's empire, which leaves Vallejo as a side character. It also fails to make the most of either Javier Bardem or Penelope Cruz, even though both are on fire.

dir-scr Darren Aronofsky; with Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem 17/US ***.
Darren Aronofsky uses the tropes of a haunted house thriller to explore the act of creation, both artistically and domestically. Yes, this is a freak-out parable about both directing a movie and establishing a family. since everything is so overpoweringly symbolic, the story and characters get somewhat lost in the chaos. It's bold and unsettling, but never remotely resonant. And it leaves us wondering why we so willingly put ourselves through this kind of agony.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
dir Chris Smith; with Jim Carrey, Andy Kaufman 17/US ***.
While shooting Milos Forman's 1999 film Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey commissioned a backstage documentary, but the footage was never shown. Using a rather twinkly present-day interview, Carrey presents it now, revealing how he felt inhabited by Andy Kaufman both on and off set while the biopic was being shot. It's an entertaining look at a collision of offbeat comedy talents, exploring both actors' backgrounds and working styles in a way that's eye-opening and perhaps disturbing.

The Wild Boys [Les Garçons Sauvages]
dir-scr Bertrand Mandico; with Anael Snoek, Vimala Pons 17/Fr ***.
Heavily stylised on a low budget, this offbeat French adventure sends a group of five rebellious teen boys into a messy confrontation with gender identity. It's energetic and very witty, but far too pretentious to register very deeply with audiences. Still, strong performances emerge though the gimmicky, Guy Maddin-style visual approach, and the central idea is amusingly pointed: that a world of only women would probably be a more peaceful place to live.

Tomorrow looks extremely eclectic: the Aussie thriller Sweet Country with Sam Neill and Bryan Brown, the Italian musical-comedy Ammore e Malavita, Vivian Qu's dark Chinese drama Angels Wear White, and the Polish documentary The Prince and the Dybbuk about chameleon-like filmmaker Michal Waszynski.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Venezia74: Speak your mind on Day 6

I finally made it across the lagoon in the warm sunshine from the Lido to Venice today. (It took me this long last year as well!) After the two morning films, I jumped on the vaporetto, and then spent the afternoon roaming around one of my favourite places on earth, visiting a couple of museums (Damien Hirst's fabulous Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable at Palazzo Grassi, and the glories of the Guggenheim Collection) and of course eating gelato. Then back over to Lido for two more movies at the 74th Venice Film Festival, so a rather full day...

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
dir-scr Martin McDonagh; with Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson 17/US *****
Writer-director Martin McDonaugh is on blistering form with this fiendishly clever personal drama, which arrives masquerading as a funny, violent police thriller. With take-no-prisoners performances from the entire cast, particularly a storming Frances McDormand, the film tackles our angry world head-on with a surprisingly heartfelt plea for compassion. And it tackles the riveting story as well as a series of pungent themes with remarkable honesty.

The Third Murder
dir-scr Hirokazu Kore-eda; with Masaharu Fukuyama, Koji Yakusho 17/Jpn ****.
Expertly orchestrated by master filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, this is on the surface a police procedural thriller. Except that it's actually a detailed exploration of a group of intertwined characters who may or may not be telling the truth. Which is kind of the point for what turns out to be a provocative look at the nature of justice in a world full of imperfect people. It's also the kind of movie that demands close attention from the audience.

A Family [Una Famiglia]
dir Sebastiano Riso; with Micaela Ramazzotti, Patrick Bruel 17/It 1h37 **
This may look like a gritty Italian drama that addresses a dark corner of Roman society, but nothing about it feels very believable. Despite some strong acting by the lead actors, the characters are impossible to sympathise with simply because their overpowering self-interest is so contrived. There are some intriguing comments about male-female dynamics and co-dependence, but any astute observations seem to emerge almost by accident.

My Generation
dir David Batty; with Michael Caine, Paul McCartney 17/UK 1h25 ***.
A groovy trip through swinging 1960s London, this colourful documentary explores the seismic shift in British society as working class artists teamed up to break the rules and become global stars in music, acting, art and fashion. Narrated by Michael Caine, its full of enjoyable personal anecdotes, terrific songs and lots of clips edited together into a swirling concoction. It may feel rather gimmicky, but it's packed with entertaining surprises.

Tomorrow we have the world premiere one of the most anticipated films of the festival: Darren Aronofsky's Mother! There's also Jim & Andy, about Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman, and Loving Pablo, with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Venezia74: Hit the road on Day 5

The weather returned to sunshine today, so I took a break in the middle of the day and went for a long walk on the beach. I have another gap tomorrow, and hope to cross the lagoon to Venice for some museum visiting. In the meantime I had three films today. Well, I was supposed to have four, but I did something I never do: I walked out of the French documentary Caniba. After 40 minutes, it was still insufferably pretentious and incoherent, and I remembered that I didn't need to review it anywhere, so I followed the steady flow of walk-outs and had some ice cream instead. These are the ones I watched all the way through...

The Leisure Seeker
dir Paolo Virzi; with Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland 17/US ***.
There's an askance loopiness about this film that blurs the lines between a lively road comedy and a darker exploration of mortality. It helps that it stars the effortlessly offbeat Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, who add layers of edgy subtext to their broad characters and on-the-nose dialog. As it travels down America's East Coast, the film tries to pack in a lot of nostalgia and a whiff of politics, but it's the more internalised moments that are most effective.

Victoria & Abdul
dir Stephen Frears; with Judi Dench, Ali Fazal 17/UK ***
This may be a crowd-pleasing film, but it never seems like director Stephen Frears can make up his mind whether he's making a frightfully British comedy or a historical drama about the final 15 years of Queen Victoria's reign. So it ends up as an awkward mix of the two that feels neither funny nor historical. Thankfully it's anchored by another hugely engaging performance by Judi Dench, who keeps the audience smiling even when the plausibility wobbles.

Team Hurricane
dir-scr Annika Berg; with Zara Munch Bjarnum, Ida Glitre 17/Den ***.
A group of eight 15-year-old girls bare their souls in this colourful Danish documentary, which feels like they made it as a school project. Or perhaps it's a public service programme made to feel down with the kids. It's busy and bursting with lively touches for a generation that thinks anything that isn't "Insta-worthy" is useless. But they also discuss on serious issues like depression, sexuality, body image and eating disorder, all from the vibrant perspective of a teen girl.

Tomorrow: Francis McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Koreeda's The Third Murder and the Hollywood doc My Generation...

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Venezia74: Checking the line-up on Day 4

At the 74th Venice Film Festival, I scheduled today one film lighter to give me a bit of time to catch up on writing, and also hopefully to see a bit of the city. Well, the thunder and lightning prevented me from getting out, but I did catch up on my work. And it was nice not being around the venues all day, as they were heaving. Here's what I saw...

dir George Clooney; with Matt Damon, Julianne Moore 17/US ****
On the surface, this is a 1950s-tinged noir thriller with comical overtones But it also has a pungent undercurrent of satirical social commentary, which isn't partiularly surprising for a team-up between George Clooney and the Coens. There are so many facets to this film that it can't help but keep us engaged, whether being gripped by the mystery, feeling challenged about the injustice or identifying with one young boy's rather horrific coming of age.

Reinventing Marvin [Marvin]
dir Anne Fontaine; with Finnegan Oldfield, Catherine Salee 17/Fr ****
The thoughtful story of a young artist's journey to self-expression, this film is sometimes brutally honest about the tension between what are known as provincial attitudes and so-called enlightened liberal sensibilities. The film may be in need of some judicial editing, but the material here is resonant and important. And it's also beautifully played by an intriguingly eclectic cast that includes Isabelle Huppert in a witty role as herself.

dir-scr Mazen Khaled; with Carol Abboud, Hamza Mekdad 17/Leb ***
An experimental exploration of masculinity and male friendship, this Lebanese film is very tactile as it follows a young man over the course of a fateful day. While touching on some social issues, the main focus is on his friends, who remain by his side through a very detailed ordeal. There isn't much plot, and very little sense of character for the actors to work with, so it never quite resonates emotionally as it should. But it's darkly involving.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Venezia74: Flying the flag on Day 3

The weather shifted here on the Lido with an extended series of thunderstorms in the middle of the night, which left the Venice Film Festival rather drippy and wet for most of the day, a drastic change after the sunshine of the previous two days. There was also a shift in the films, from the thematically overheated to more overwhelmingly emotional adventures. Here's what I saw today, including one film that will surely be among my best of the whole year...

Brawl in Cell Block 99
dir-scr S Craig Zahler; with Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter 17/US 2h12 ****
After infusing the Western with horrific new life in 2015's Bone Tomahawk, S Craig Zahler is back with a thunderous reinvention of the prison movie. Set in the present day but playing out like a 1970s exploitation thriller, this increasingly grisly story unfolds with choreographed precision, grinding the audience into its emotional depths with several genuinely hideous plot turns. And it's anchored by a superbly thoughtful/fierce performance from Vince Vaughn.

Lean on Pete
dir-scr Andrew Haigh; with Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi 17/US *****
There's an unusual depth of character to this finely crafted odyssey about a teen who hits the road in a last-gasp effort to find some semblance of hope in his life. While there's plenty of potential for bleakness, writer-director Andrew Haigh instead infuses the film with warmth and honesty, facing the darkest moments head-on as the only way to get through them. It's an extraordinarily tough story told with a light touch that brings the viewer right into the journey

Our Souls at Night
dir Ritesh Batra; with Jane Fonda, Robert Redford 17/US ***.
In addition to screening their new film,
Redford and Fonda are receiving
a special award here in Venice.
Gentle and never pushy, this homespun drama spins a love story between two people who are pushing 80. Although it might be a little unrealistic, since they're played by perhaps the fittest 79 and 81 year-olds on earth: Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Both actors easily reignite their on-screen chemistry, adding character details that give the film a strong emotional kick. It's all a bit cozy, but it touches on some sharper-edged themes.

Tainted Souls [Il Contagio]
dir Matteo Botrugno, Daniele Coluccini; with Vinicio Marchioni, Maurizio Tesei 17/It **.
This ambitious multi-character drama takes aim at several potent issues plaguing Italian society, from organised crime and drug abuse to the machismo that leaves men too proud to get a job. But the film's tone is all over the place, veering from quirky comedy to gruelling nightmare, more like a melodramatic TV series than a feature film. And the characters feel equally uneven as they look for happiness in all the wrong places.