October 3, 2006

Venice spotlights Aronofsky, Estevez

The Venetian sun baked the promenade in front of my hotel. Gondoliers waited for tourists anxious to experience the historic canals by boat. I watched all this from the window and prepared for another day of dark theaters and long lines.

I saw Ethan Hawke put on his director hat for The Hottest State, a movie version of his novel by the same name. It was a simple coming of age story starring Mark Webber and Catalina Sandino Moreno as two passionate lovers. The audience knows almost immediately that the movie is about heartbreak; it is also 30 minutes too long. By far the best thing about the film is Webber. While the film is nothing special, the role could easily catapult him into greater notoriety. After leaving the film, I found myself caught in a revolving door with the president of the festival’s jury, Catherine Deneuve. (For the record, I liked her better in Belle de Jour.)

Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain focused on the timeless theme of eternal youth. Hugh Jackman gives the audience an acting trifecta, playing a 16th century Spanish Conquistador, a modern day scientist, and a futuristic being living in outer space. It is the first film Aronofsky has directed since Requiem for a Dream in 2000. While six years is an awfully long time between films, no rust could be seen onscreen. The movie, as expected from Aronofsky, is extremely original and thought provoking. Jackman’s scientist, Tommy Creo, tries to save his ill wife Izzy, but learns that eternal youth does not guarantee eternal happiness. All in all, The Fountain remains one the better films I saw in Venice. However, the title of the best is reserved for the last film I saw.

Bobby tells several overlapping stories of people staying or working at the Ambassador Hotel the day of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination on June 6, 1968. Writer/director Emilio Estevez weaves an array of stories with archival footage of Bobby Kennedy leading up to his death that evening. Having shed his Gordon Bombay past for an RFK future, Estevez carefully delves into one of the most important events of the 20th century. Besides the obvious political ramifications, the death of Bobby Kennedy affected people in a very personal way—it was the last straw in a year that had already seen an incumbent president bow out of the race, Martin Luther King’s murder and the growing concern of Vietnam. One could argue that RFK’s death was more historically significant than even the assassination of his brother almost five years earlier. Some may wish to view the film in light of our present political climate. Estevez placed the film in its proper historical context with fictional narratives aimed at the prevailing wisdom of the time: that RFK would bring change.

The film’s remarkable cast aided the ensemble nature of the script. Bobby featured Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne, Anthony Hopkins, William H. Macy, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Heather Graham, Nick Cannon, Shia LaBeouf, Ashton Kutcher, Christian Slater, Elijah Wood, and Estevez himself. Staying with the Mighty Ducks motif, Joshua Jackson has graduated from his early days as Charlie Conway by playing an employee with the Kennedy Campaign. While Jia Zhang-Ke’s Still Life won this year’s Golden Lion for best film, Bobby will be around come Oscar time.

I covered the oldest film festival in the world as most likely the youngest person with press credentials (I left Venice three days shy of my 20th birthday). The festival remains one of the most prestigious in the world. I saw many stars and felt incredibly adult at times, but those moments were sandwiched between thoughts of my inexperience and youth. I suppose I have time to catch up, considering I may also have had a head start.