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Friday, September 02, 2011
In Venice, Madonna and her movie
Venice, September 1
The sun, as expected, is fierce. The movies, so far, have been lukewarm. The 68th Venice International Film Festival opened on Aug 31 with George Clooney's The Ides of March, in which Ryan Goslin plays a press secretay to Clooney's presidential candidate. And in the past two days, the parade of stars descending upon the red carpet at Lido could've blotted out the relentless Venetian sun, raising the perennial question whether Venice -- one of the three or four major film festivals in the world -- can strenghten its preferred cocktail of big-name projects with more obscure, even experimental movies (in the sidebard Orrizonti section) and rise to challenge Cannes as the most influential cinema event.
As I'm writing, Madonna is giving a press conference in the next room. Madonna is here to present "W.E.", a sometimes engaging, sometimes ridiculous tale of romance and of two women's search, literally, for impregnation and everlasting love. Set in dual periods, it tells parallel stories of a present-day woman called Wally who becomes obsessed with the story of the scandalous, romantic, fairty-tale, throne-sacrificing love saga between King Edward and his American lover and later wife, Wallis (this "W.E." of the title).This is the story that gets told as a sidebar in "The King's Speech" -- Edward was the brother of the stuttering king, who abdicated in order to pursue the forbidden love with Wallis.
Didn't I tell you that Madonna is the director -- not the actor? And while the film has a confident visual flourish that nearly smothers you in its swirl of courtly, luxurious pre-war life, the script is utterly devoid of mystery, and the attempt to pair the two women --the modern-day Wally with King Edward's Wallis -- feels forced and tenuous. Especially in the present-day section, which strikes me as overwritten and overdirected. What works, or works better, is the period part, because the story of Wallis -- the woman who acquires the image of an emotional, flightly, fun-loving flirt in the popular imagination, or at least those who've watched "The King's Speech" -- is being told here from her point of view. The message is simple, probably too simple to leave any bitter afterthought: what lies behind every fairy tale is a tragedy of varying degrees. It's the same in the case of Edward and Wally here.
The good news is, "W.E" will open in Bangkok. Later this year I guess, or I hope. At the press conference, Madonna was asked one of those annoying yet precious questions, at least for the sake of sound bite: "Would you give up a throne for a man or a woman you love?".
Her answer: "I can have them both. Or all three of them." Welcome to Venice.
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