VENICE: ‘The Sleeping Beauty,’ ‘Silent Souls’

Posted by · 10:44 pm · September 3rd, 2010

Blame Sofia Coppola. Or at least blame Los Angeles. For immediately after the former’s summery, sun-bleached “Somewhere” kicked off this morning’s activity, the Lido clearly decided to rebel against Coppola’s aesthetic and started gathering its clouds. Shortly before noon, the beachfront was a mere blur under a torrential downpour of rain, robust sponsors’ umbrellas blown heedlessly across the red carpet.

The storm ended as abruptly as it began, though I couldn’t help wondering if it was an instruction of sorts from the festival gods. “Okay, dilettantes, you’ve had the three name American auteurs,” they seemed to be saying. “Now feel free to hop on over to Telluride or Toronto; you won’t even be missing out on the weather.”

I was indoors when the gusts began whipping against the windows of the press room, but was affected by the storm nonetheless: largely because a leak in the ceiling necessitated the shutdown of the room’s wi-fi network for over two hours, handily erasing half the “Somewhere” review I’d already written and throwing my day’s screening schedule out of whack. Venice’s slightly bumpy administration can be endearing sometimes; this was not one of those times.

That said, one day after bemoaning my three-a-day film routine, I sabotaged my own shot on goal for a fourth with my first walk-out of the fest: after a too-tight transition between screenings kept me out of Patrick Keiller’s “Robinson in Ruins,” I ducked instead into the Italian competition entry “La Passione.” Within 20 minutes, however, this mannered comedy had me so at arm’s length – only the Italians in the audience seemed to be laughing at jokes about the Cultural Heritage Department – that I hadn’t the energy to stick with it. Perhaps on a fuller tank of sleep, things would be different; either way, I’ve all but assured it will take home some manner of award now.

The day did, at least, afford me the chance to catch up with Catherine Breillat’s “The Sleeping Beauty” (***), the French provocateur’s second straight stab at reinterpreting a Charles Perrault fairy tale with her peculiar sexual and gender politics. Consensus on the Lido has it that this is a less satisfactory reworking than last year’s “Bluebeard”; having found that film an arch, curiously tentative exercise in Angela Carter-lite, however, I was both pleased and surprised to find her latest visually richer, and conceptually more adventurous, than its predecessor.

Ostensibly a fusion of the titular classic and Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” “The Sleeping Beauty” really borrows them only as a cursory jumping-off point into a dense and episodic exploration of dream logic; structured upon nested levels of consciousness, the film would actually make a neat double feature with “Inception,” though its assembly is more jaggedly intuitive than ornately jigsaw-like. Sleeping Beauty in this case is an early-20th century tomboy (the delightful Carla Besnainou, shouldering the bulk of the narrative with great poise) cursed to fall into a hundred-year slumber at the age of six, waking up in the present day as a sexually curious 16 year-old.

The winding path of dream encounters that leads us to this point is pretty hit-and-miss, and there are more lulls than there should be in an 82-minute essay, but it’s a pleasure to see Breillat this playful again, while much of the handmade, sweetly sinister imagery – notably a gaggle of kindergarten-age girls trussed up in hot-pink kimonos – couldn’t stem from any other filmmaker’s imagination. Breillat has bought herself another shot at the Perrault canon, should she so wish.

Another pleasingly brief curio, Russian director Aleksei Fedorchenko’s “Silent Souls” (***) uses the simplest of linear narrative conceits – after his wife dies, a man and his best friend go on a road trip to lay her body to rest – as the bedrock for an eccentric but sneakily moving meditation on grief, aging and the demise of Russia’s Merjan culture. (This last aspect of the film is nothing if not illuminating: I doubt many films this year will feature a traditional pubic hair ribbon-threading ceremony.)

Arguably a short film spun out to a lean 75 minutes, the calm urgency of the men’s mission keeps it compelling throughout; should your ear never quite tune into to the mordant poetry of the dialogue as mine eventually did (sample line: “He was a queer fish, that self-taught Merjan poet”), the grace and depth of DP Mikhail Krichman’s startling widescreen compositions are handsome compensation.

Admittedly, “Silent Souls” doesn’t have me entirely convinced that there will be a tomorrow, but should I be so lucky, the lineup is a rich one: Martin Scorsese’s “A Letter to Elia,” Francois Ozon’s “Potiche,” a second attempt at “Robinson in Ruins” and, most tantalizingly of all, Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff” — one of my two remaining most anticipated titles of the fest. No little torrential thunderstorm is going to keep me away from that.


→ 4 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

4 responses so far

  • 1 9-04-2010 at 3:40 am

    Kevin said...

    Still holding out on your walk-out awards jinx? It’d be truly hilarious (and not to mention, a little bit unnerving) if La Passione does in fact take home a gong.

  • 2 9-04-2010 at 6:19 am

    Michael said...

    you have piqued my interest in both of these films. I will put them on my queue of films to try and catch hopefully within a year from now (unlikely they will see the light of day anywhere near me anytime soon…)

  • 3 9-04-2010 at 9:01 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Guy I saw that you gave Meek’s Cutoff an A and compared it to a Malick production. You going to review that one?

  • 4 9-04-2010 at 10:41 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yes, soon. Busy day yesterday with wi-fi problems, so got a bit behind schedule.