Film Reviews

VICTORIA’S 2006 CHRISTMAS REVIEWS

By • Dec 22nd, 2006 • Pages: 1 2

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VENUS

Creepy. Repugnant. A septuagenarian lusts for sex from a teenager. She lets him smell her after buying her stuff.

If this was about loneliness and the fear of dying alone, I would have loved it. Instead, it’s about a decrepit old coot hankering after a friend’s niece’s wayward daughter. Peter O’Toole, now 74, was a beautiful international movie star, but he still has to pay that mortgage.

And let’s not forget, VENUS is all about O’Toole. How could he resist once again being the pampered star with lots of close-ups?

Roger Michell’s VENUS, with a script by Hanif Kureishi, could have made a statement about fame and aging. Is O’Toole’s performance fearless or just appalling? The dialogue between the two old-timers is catty and sharp-tongued. But the story is creepy.

“Old age is no place for sissies.” Bette Davis.

Maurice Russell (O’Toole) is a famous actor who still gets work. He has cornered the market on “dying grandfathers.” His best friend is another actor, Ian (Leslie Phillips), who believes he (Ian) is in need of some care. Ian’s niece sends her teenage daughter Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) to cook and watch over him. Hopefully, she will also get a job. Jessie arrives and all she wants to do is eat and watch TV. She looks at her uncle with disgust. She has no intention of cooking for him or being an old man’s companion.

However, Maurice immediately takes an intense liking to unspoiled Jessie. A well-regarded ladies man in his youth and beyond, he still fancies the ladies. He pursues Jessie like a suitor. It was shameful. He gets her a job posing nude in an art studio. He even pulls up an easel to draw her. He tries to impress her with his fame. The fact that he has absolutely nothing in common with a girl who hasn’t read a book and doesn’t want to, is not a requirement when her nubile flesh is in close quarters. Maurice is also blind to her age. It is vulgar watching Maurice pant over Jessie’s feet and trying to kiss her, but O’Toole seems to be enjoying it as much as his character.

Old men can be such fools.

This is an ugly, depraved film. I was personally offended and repulsed by it.

Even with his urine bag leaking, Maurice thinks he will eventually win Jessie over. Why would someone as famous as Maurice throw away the last thing he has left – his dignity? You’d think dignity would be something to hold on to until the end. The brutal ravages of old age are front and center with Maurice and Ian crawling along, impotent and incontinent.

Maurice’s estranged wife Valerie (Vanessa Redgrave) is an un-groomed mess, barely able to walk. Until the last scene – when Valerie miraculously dolls herself up for her final curtain call. God forbid we are left with the image of an unkempt Redgrave.

See “Venus” for O’Toole’s grandstand performance, but be warned: It’s not for sissies.


BABEL

An emotionally visceral and empathetic triumph.

I am a huge fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s previous films, 21 GRAMS (2003) and AMORES PERROS (2000). Iñárritu is able to bring intensely felt human suffering to the screen. While the onslaught of popular films like HOSTEL and the SAW franchise exploit physical suffering in the extreme, Iñárritu shows us emotional pain.

It is not surprising that movie stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blachette wanted to work with Iñárritu even if it meant being a small part of an ensemble cast. Iñárritu’s films possess an emotional peak that embraces suffering everyone can relate to.

Iñárritu and his 21 GRAMS and AMORES PERROS screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have fashioned a story that blends together four diverse families and countries: Richard (Pitt) and Susan (Blanchett) are on vacation in Morocco. Their youngest child has died and they are trying to mend their individual guilt over the infant’s death. Their other two children are at home in San Diego being cared for by their long-time housekeeper Amelia (Adriana Barraza).

Traveling in a bus filled with tourists, Susan is hit by a stray bullet. Dangerously close to death and four hours away from a hospital, the bus driver goes to the nearest village, where a villager provides help. The other tourists, selfish Westerners, want to leave Richard and Susan behind and continue their road trip. It is a cruel indictment of how rich people on vacation behave while the poor villagers show wordless compassion.

The bullet was fired from a rifle given to a Moroccan guide by a Japanese hunter. The man then sold the rifle to a goat herder, Anwar (Mohamed Akhzam).

Anwar gives the rifle to his two young sons to shoot the jackals that have been killing their goats. In trying to see how far the bullets will go, the youngest boy fires at the bus. Richard has a hard time getting help from the U.S. embassy but does get through to Amelia. She must stay with the children even though her son is getting married in Mexico. Unable to find another sitter for the children, she has no choice but to take the children with her and her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal) across the border into Mexico. On the way back to San Diego, Santiago, drunk, gets stopped at the border and then bolts. Pursued by the border police, he leaves Amelia and the two kids in the desert to fend for themselves.

The story shifts to Tokyo, where a young deaf-mute teenager, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), is distraught over her mother’s death. Her father (Koji Yakusho) was the Japanese hunter who gave away the rifle. Being deaf in an environment fueled by rock music and sensation-driven language, Chieko indulges in daring sexual behavior as her form of communication.

Even though the title BABEL explains the theme of the film, it resonated with me on another level. Even though the language barrier or lack thereof (the Japanese storyline) is the dominant theme, it is clear that human pain and suffering has a universal language.

The old Moroccan woman understood Susan’s pain and empathized, the father’s anguish over his son’s actions required no subtitles, we understood Chieko’s naked pain, Richard’s frustration and fear did not require dialogue, and Amelia’s horror and tears were emotionally riveting.

Pitt gives the emotional performance required of Iñárritu’s actors. Pitt can portray an ordinary man. And while non-actor Akhzam also finds the right emotional cord, it is Barraza who gives the performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

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