Our correspondent reports on three wildly different titles at this year’s Venice Film Festival, including one that local audiences are sure to love.
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1 Sep 2014 - 12:45 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2015 - 10:29 AM

She’s Funny That Way

Venice may have kicked off with a cynically humorous take on life in the theatre in Birdman, yet the laughs are uproarious in Peter Bogdanovich’s She’s Funny That Way (pictured top), which represents a return to form for the iconic 1970s director (What’s Up Doc?, The Last Picture Show). Owen Wilson conjures some of the magic he wove in Midnight in Paris, again playing a hapless romantic with a secret second life. His Arnold is a theatre director and Robin Hood for hookers who promises $30,000 if they give away that oldest of professions for good. Many of them go on to flourish in successful careers, yet when Imogen Poots’s ex-prostitute turns out to be a talented actress auditioning for his latest Broadway production alongside his actress wife (Kathryn Hahn), all hell breaks loose.
 
It’s the kind of film Australian audiences will love. In Venice, Wilson conceded a comparison between Bogdanovich and Allen, who are both in their 70s.
 
“The director sets the tone for the feel on the set and both Peter and Woody have a gentlemanly way of working and supporting the actors, so you never get the feeling that things are frantic and out of control like sometimes you feel on a movie. Yet you feel like there’s someone in charge. The similarity between the two characters is I’m playing them, so I bring myself to both of them.”
 
Interestingly, Wilson came to the film via his buddy and collaborator Wes Anderson, also a friend of Bogdanovich. Anderson and Noah Baumbach executive produced the film, helping amass the all-star cast, which includes a scene-stealing Jennifer Aniston as a neurotic loudmouth shrink.

 

Heaven Knows What 

Sitting through a movie immersed in the world of drug addicts might seem like a tough thing to do amid a busy festival schedule, yet Heaven Knows What, directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, is extremely well made and visually arresting, and well performed by the two leads, Arielle Holmes and Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral, X- Men: First Class, Byzantium). Initially, the film was to be a different story about addiction but when the directors met real life drug addict Holmes, they decided to tell her sometimes horrifying story. It helps that the camera loves her and that she casts a forceful presence as she does in real life. Jones, a pale-skinned Texan actor with a rarefied presence, is truly carving a niche for himself. He has upcoming major roles playing other eccentrics in films by Roland Emmerich—the gay director’s personal tribute to Stonewall—and John Boorman’s Queen and Country.

 

The Look of Silence

While Joshua Oppenheimer’s previous Oscar-nominated film, The Act of Killing, exposed the consequences for all of us when we build our everyday reality on terror and lies, his follow-up, The Look of Silence, explores what it’s like to be a survivor in such a reality. The first part followed the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide —this time Oppenheimer looks at a family of survivors that discovers how their son was murdered and the identity of the men who killed him. The youngest brother, Adi Rukun, is determined to break the spell of silence and fear under which the survivors live, and so confronts the men responsible for his brother's murder—something unimaginable in a country where killers remain in power.


The American director made The Look of Silence before the premiere of The Act of Killing in the knowledge that he would be persona non grata in Indonesia from that moment on. For two years he has lived in Copenhagen with his Danish husband, and the film was principally financed out of Denmark and the Danish Film Institute.
 
“The crew who helped me must remain anonymous to protect their safety, said Oppenheimer in Venice. “If their identity becomes known to the authorities, especially to the paramilitary group that played such a prominent role in The Act of Killing, there would be consequences. Making The Look of Silence exposed Adi Rukun, a man of extraordinary dignity and courage, to real risk. To mitigate that risk, his family had to move to another part of Indonesia thousands of kilometres away. We managed to get the children into better schools and to create an opportunity from this. But it’s a matter of making the best of a terrible situation.
 
“I wanted to immerse viewers in the knowledge that survivors must build a life while still surrounded by the powerful perpetrators. So often in human rights documentaries we’re encouraged to look at the atrocity but also remain optimistic that there’s a campaign for justice or a heroic human rights campaigner who promises somehow at least in the future to resolve things, somehow letting viewers off the hook so that at the end of the film we’re able to turn away and think about something else. I wanted to create a pause in memorial for all the lives that can never be brought back, the decades parents will never be able to redeem because they’ve been destroyed by fear. I wanted you to pause and experience that and listen and look very, very closely to the silence that follows an atrocity, particularly when there is no justice.”