#Venice2013: Round-up Time!

Moebius (dir. Kim Ki-Duk) 
The Canyons
(dir. Paul Schrader) 
The Armstrong Lie
(dir. Alex Gibney) 
Tom at the Farm (Tom à la Ferme)
(dir. Xavier Dolan) 


Ooh ‘eck, we’re only a couple of days from the end of 2013′s festival, and since I’m not going to get the chance to review everything in full before I’m back, have a gander through some of the other films I’ve taken a chance on.

Last year’s Golden Lion winner Pieta is released this week in the UK, but already director Kim Ki-Duk has revealed his newest ultra-violent mindfuck at Venice, Moebius.

It was briefly banned earlier this year in South Korea for being too extreme, and from the opening frames, you’ll be getting to know the brace position. We’ve got castration, rape, incest – it’s all there – but remarkably it’s actually rather funny. With no dialogue but full of rounded, emotional characters, it’s clearly directed by someone who knows what he’s doing, threading discordant notes about the male psyche around an orgy of deliously violent images. It’s definitely a wild ride that’s not recommended for anyone except the most hardy, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.

More madness comes in Paul Schrader’s The Canyons a spiteful erotic thriller-cum-Hollywood satire that comes across more as a way to leer over Lindsay Lohan’s dying career.

The acting is poor across the board, including porn actor James Deen as Lohan’s boyfriend, a vile, sex-pest movie producer, who’d be laughably ridiculous as a character if Brett Easton Ellis’ dreadful script hadn’t reduced the movie to po-faced characters and stuck as a b-movie without ridiculous artistic pretensions.

But most of the pity should remain for director Schrader, who made such touchstone American movies as American Gigolo and Cat People, but has descended to this dreck at the twilight of his career.

On the other hand Lance Armstrong’s career is already consigned to the waste heap, hopefully as a footnote to the sport of cycling that has been drained of credibility since revelations of his doping were confirmed.

Alex Gibney’s documenatry The Armstrong Lie takes its title from a 2005 L’Equipe headline “La Mensonge Armstrong”, which alleged the cyclist had taken EPO in 1999. It’s findings have now, of course, been vindicated.

Armstrong Lie

Gibney began filming Armstrong in 2008, as he was about to make his comeback to the sport for 2009 Tour de France after seven wins between 1999-2005. But when the doping accusations hit in 2012, that film was shelved. Gibney’s documentary shown follows closely that 2009 tour, a insightful, although certainly not extensive, look at Armstrong’s remorseless, vicious drive to win, and his even more intense desire not to lose.

It’s a snappy, entertaining documentary that will enlighten newcomers to the story but leaves little new to report for those already initiated. It doesn’t have the jaw-dropping news value of Gibney’s Enron film, nor the harrowing must-be-told story of 2007′s Taxi to the Dark Side, and I felt Gibney wasn’t angry enough at Armstrong. All that the director gives us that’s new is a recent, post-confession sit-down interview where Armstrong is allowed to give his polished, media-prepped narrative that we can see through, but aren’t give to chance confront.

In Tom at the Farm, confrontation is the name of the game. The fourth film by 24-year-old Xavier Dolan, something of a wunderkind in arthouse filmmaking, is a meditation on queer themes, unsurfaced masculinity, all wrapped in a thriller set on a rural Quebecois farm.

Dolan is Tom, visiting the funeral of his lover Guillaume. When he arrives, he discovers that Guillaume’s mother hasn’t heard of him, nor does he even know her son was gay, and Guillaume’s violent brother Francis wants to keep it that way.

It’s primary pleasure is in the sheer unexpectedness of the film, which twists and turns deliciously as Tom’s relationship with Francis starts to develop in mysterious ways. I wondered whether its depiction of homosexual repression was painted too broadly (“gay self-loating” as the Hollywood Reporter put it), but it’s otherwise a taught, Hitchcockian domestic thriller that reminded me, in content if not form, of Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen.

#Venice2013: My six picks

And so my trip to the Venice Film Festival begins, not with a bang but with a long, whimpering, drawn-out read of the festival programme. There’s no stand out film that everyone’s dying to see – not like last year’s The Master – but there are plenty of hot films out there that I’m looking forward to. British cinema, which languished in Cannes earlier this year, has a healthy cohort of films, and there’s good mix of genre and straight drama (sometimes in the same film – see Under The Skin). The weather’s good too. Here’s six films I’m especially looking forward to:

1. Festival director Alberto Barbera doesn’t have the heavyweight directors he’s had in numbers in previous years – Paul Thomas Anderson, Terence Malick, Ang Lee, Sofia Copolla – which means probably the biggest-name director in competition on the Lido, remarkably, is Terry Gilliam, whose new film The Zero Theorem marks a return to the science fiction territory in which he’s had his biggest successes (Twelve Monkeys, Brazil). Christoph Waltz, who Gilliam says has never been better than here, plays a computer genius who embarks on a project to discover the secret to existence, and is supported by a stellar cast, who include David Thewlis, Matt Damon and apparently Robin Williams in a cameo role. It looks like a cross between Brazil and Fisher King, which happily are his two best works. Could this give Gilliam the highest accolade of his career?

2. The most talk-about film among anglophile critics is undoubtedly Under The Skin, the long-awaited adaptation of Michel Faber’s chilly novel by reclusive director Jonathan Glazer, whose last film, Birth, premiered at Venice way back in 2004. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien in human form, who picks up hitchhikers for a mysterious assignment in Scotland – expect violent sci-fi, but with the novel’s cold satirical tone. Glazer has a strong reputation, still riding the wave of success from Sexy Beast, and the long post-production of the film (it was said to have finished filming in 2011), rather than giving birth to rumours of troubled production, has only whet appetites more.

3. Daniel Radcliffe has found his feet post-Potter acting (his turn in The Cripple of Inishmaan in London is going down a storm) and it continues in Kill Your Darlings, which receives its international premiere on the Lido. Radcliffe plays a young Allen Ginsburg, discovering his artistic sensibilities and sexuality at the genesis of the Beat movement. It received great notices at Sundance, and Radcliffe’s reputation as a serious actor is only improving.

4. Lukas Moodysson’s career has wandered since he made 2004′s extraordinary Lilya 4-ever (one of the best films of the last decade?). His new film We Are The Best returns to the youthful territory of his debut, the lovely Show Me Love (a kids film hilariously titled in its original Swedish as Fucking Åmål), this time with three teenagers who band together to play punk rock music in the 1980s.

5. Quebecois actor/director Xavier Dolan is being seen as a bit of a wunderkind and his new pic Tom A La Ferme is his fourth film in as many years. Tom, also played by Dolan, visits the countryside for a funeral, but is astonished by the fact that no-one there knows him, or his relationship to the deceased. Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard, it promises the sort of tension of Vinterberg’s Festen, coupled with a sexual edge that Dolan’s work is known for.

6. Full Monty producer Uberto Pasolini debuts as a director with Still Life, the tale of a funeral officer (the always impressive Eddie Marsan) responsible for burying those whose relatives cannot be found. He writes eulogies, picks the music, but he is always the only one to hear them. When he’s made redundant for a more ‘efficient’ officer, he takes on the task of finding the lost relatives of his lonely, unknown neighbour. It looks sterling stuff, and a fine leading role for the great Eddie Marsan.

Other stuff. Also on my radar are two documentaries screening on the Lido – Alex Gibney’s Lance Armstrong pic The Armstrong Lie and Errol Morris’ profile of Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, which, rather like David Hare’s play Stuff Happens, sounds a sardonic title if ever I heard one. Stephen Frears has a new film starring the ubiquitous Steve Coogan in Philomena, which also stars Judi Dench in what some are calling an awards-worthy role, and Locke, from Eastern Promises writer Steven Knight shows the strength in numbers of British film. There’s the intriguing new film from Meek’s Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt, Night Moves, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning. Plus two films featuring renaissance man James Franco premiere, his own Child of God, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, and Palo Alto, his novel adapted for the screen by Gia Copolla, granddaughter of Francis Ford. Finally Gravity, which premiered tonight on the Lido, has ecstatic buzz, but it’ll have finished its run at the festival before I reach Venice.

So now for Friday’s 5.35am (AM!) flight from Gatwick – what nightmares are made of. Follow my tweets, look me up on Instagram, and follow me on the blog, which I’ll be updating every few hours.

In the mean time, watch this advert warning against the threat of being hit in the face by fish in Venice:

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