Well, it turns out even I can be overwhelmed by too many movies. Starting to feel a little spent but that’s probably because of having to scoot back in line for the next film the second the lights come up and finding a lot of people already in line who skipped the end credits. And then I get hungry.
Anyway, the movies I saw today ranged from the best I’ve seen to the worst. Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi took the stage to introduce his Golden Bear-winning fifth feature A Separation and I tell you this: I will be shocked if I see a better film this year. A Separation is a tremendous success on every level. An Iranian couple are getting a divorce. The woman wants to take their 11-year-old daughter to educate her abroad. The man doesn’t want the divorce and without his wife, needs to hire outside help to care for his Alzheimer’s-stricken father. The story is universal and achingly human, acted by a pitch-perfect cast. Simply outstanding. This deserves to be seen by a large audience.
Rushed back in line to see David Cronenberg’s new film, A Dangerous Method, which was introduced by its Oscar-winning screenwriter (for Dangerous Liasons), Christopher Hampton. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) treats a hysterical patient (Keira Knightley) who eventually becomes his colleague and then lover. Jung struggles to sort things out with help from his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Performances are very strong. Fassbender is a very interesting actor to watch and Knightley, who I’m hot and cold on, it quite effective in a showy role. It’s a talky film, likely due to its roots on the stage, but worth seeing and discussing.
And the last film of the day was undoubtedly the worst. Writer-director Steve McQueen made a big splash at Telluride in 2008 with Hunger which starred Michael Fassbender as IRA member Bobby Sands who led a hunger strike in 1981. McQueen appeared on screen to introduce his new film Shame—he’s currently in Venice for the world premiere—and it is utter nonsense. Fassbender again stars, this time as a sex-addicted ad man in New York who is visited by his equally wackadoo sister played by Carey Mulligan. There is certainly a peculiar relationship there, possibly an incestuous past, but McQueen’s cinematic language reveals nothing about the characters and everything about McQueen’s arty, pretentious, stylized vision of empty lives in an empty city. As human as the characters are in A Separation, the characters in Shame seem like aliens from another planet. It was an empty and aggravating experience. So far, of course, it’s already a critic’s darling.
One more thing about Shame. Carey Mulligan plays a nightclub singer (for the purposes of one scene only) and delivers a ridiculous, slow version of Kander & Ebb’s “New York, New York” that is supposed to be sad and poignant. That’s not a bad idea but the performance is insanely boring and stupid. And once again, critics are eating it up. Utter nonsense.