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The Venice Film Festival just ended, with Ang Lee winning the Golden Lion Award for Lust, Caution. He took home the top prize two years ago for Brokeback Mountain. Lust, Caution is a World War II story of a troupe of Hong Kong actors who engage in espionage to try to bring down their Japanese occupiers. Their star actress becomes the lover of a top Japanese official and ends up moving to Shanghai with him at the height of the war. Lee dedicated his award to the late Ingmar Bergman. The Best Director prize went to Brian de Palma for his Redacted, based on the true story of a American troops in Iraq who raped and killed a 14-year-old girl and her family. Critics were divided on the film, which some felt was a brave attempt to air America's dirty laundry and others felt was crude and heavy-handed. However, a film with an anti-American theme always has the edge at any European festival and one that is based on a recent incident that shows Americans at their worst is more or less a shoo-in.
Cate Blanchett won the Best Actress award for her portrayal of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There, an offbeat biopic of the singer/songwriter in which several different actors portray him. Brad Pitt won his first serious acting award for his portrayal of Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Pitt's win cemented the glamour quotient of this very glitzy festival, insuring that even the photos of the award winners would have one major star in them. But Pitt wasn't the only star around. The opening night film, Atonement, based on the Ian McEwan novel about a young girl who falsely fingers her older sister's lover for a crime, starred Keira Knightley, who complained that she fielded more questions at festival press conferences about her supposed anorexia (which she vehemently denies suffering from) than her acting. Oh, the headaches of being a Hollywood headliner. The movie received mostly positive reviews, with critics praising its acting and its sophistication.
The latest film starring Owen Wilson, the gifted comic actor/screenwriter who recently attempted suicide, Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Express, was also shown at Venice and got mixed reviews, as Anderson's films usually do. Wilson plays one of three brothers - the others are portrayed by Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore ) and Adrien Brody (The Pianist) - who haven't spoken for a year and take a train trip together across India. It's sad to think of Wilson in a hospital rather than partying at Venice. Wilson co-wrote Anderson's first three films, Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums (and co-starred in Bottle and Tenenbaums) which is enough to convince me he is far more intelligent and witty than the average Hollywood actor (as did his superbly knowing portrayal of an arrogant novelist in Tenenbaums). He didn't collaborate with Anderson on his last film, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which wasn't nearly as strong a movie as those which Wilson co-wrote. Anderson's co-writers on Darjeeling were Schwartzman and Schwartzman's cousin, Roman Coppola, Francis Ford's son and Sofia's brother. Darjeeling will be the opening film of the New York Film Festival next week but no release date is set for Israel yet.
As for Wilson, I wish him well and can't help thinking: If such a young, cute, and talented guy who has made so many people laugh fell victim to a suicidal depression, what hope is there for the rest of us? I'm reminded of a very graphic drawn-out attempted suicide scene in Tenenbaums, in which a character played by Wilson's brother, Luke, tries to take his life. I guess Wilson has always been in touch with his dark side.
EYTAN FOX's The Bubble, the story of a gay Palestinian-Israel romance set on Sheinkin Street, has just had its US opening and got approximately the same mixed reception it received here. Jeannette Catsoulis in The New York Times, wrote: "Eytan Fox directs with compassion but also with impatience for his charactersâ€š self-centered naÃ¯vetÃ©, veering somewhat uneasily between these tones and relying on the competence of his actors to smooth the transitions. And though his ending is more poetic than just, it effectively diverts partisan sympathies toward a more general condemnation of violence. Mr. Fox may be a romantic, but he understands that love is rarely all you need." Ella Taylor in the Village Voice writes: " . . . though the ending is touched by the goofy absurdities of melodrama, Fox's mix-and-match sampling of apparently incompatible genres nails the nervous blend of vitality and desperation that is Israel today." That makes sense to me, just as Fox's film did.