Change is in the air: after a succession of European film festivals where Hollywood production garnered much of the attention, Europe has seized the initiative at the current season in Venice. A series of multinational productions, essentially conceived, financed and crewed from across the continent, suggest that the growth in international box-office sales doesn't have to just mean more digital effects heavy American blockbusters and repetitive sequels; there's potentially also a place for smart, adult-orientated films that have genuine ambition.
The best reviews to date have been for Tomas Alfredson's take on John Le Carre's seminal Cold War spy novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Directed by a Swede, financed by the French and starring several generation's worth of British acting talent (including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy and John Hurt), the film has also won the author's endorsement and escaped the shadow of the acclaimed 1979 BBC mini-series, which featured a magisterial central turn by Sir Alec Guinness as British intelligence operative George Smiley (Oldman has the role this time).
Canadian provocateur David Cronenberg has European financing for a project that would have been laughed out of various Los Angeles office suites: the Viennese rivalry in the years before World War One between the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his protégé, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), over the treatment of a young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). A Dangerous Method is reportedly heavy on theatrical dialogue that crackles with philosophical cut and thrust, with pedigreed British screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Atonement, Dangerous Liaisons) adapting his own play.
Carnage, an adaptation of Yasmin Reza's highly successful play God of Carnage (a title that actually suggests a Hollywood action flick), is a French-German-Polish co-production that put director Roman Polanski together with an ensemble cast of Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz for the story of an increasingly bilious night shared by two couples who meet after their respective 11-year-old sons get into a fight. The source material is a razor-like social critique, a tone that could be perfect for Polanski.
Hollywood has traditionally been the destination for European talent and money, but this new wave of films – hopeful that there's a sizeable audience looking for literate works produced in English – appear happy to flourish at home (Tinker… releases locally on November 17, with A Dangerous Method and Carnage yet to be scheduled). The combined market of the U.K., France and Germany is now large enough that a successful film can more than break even, leaving America as a lucrative bonus, especially as the influential awards season gets underway. It's a simple deduction, hardly worthy of Sigmund Freud or George Smiley, but one that might offer more choice in our cinemas.