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VENICE – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Tomas Alfredson’s all-star cast adaptation of John le Carre’s classic novel, grabbed center stage at the Venice Film Festival Monday, following a weekend that included a new career honor for Al Pacino, an impromptu concert from Patti Smith, and the latest films from Steven Soderbergh and Steve McQueen.
Oscar winner Colin Firth, two-time Oscar nominee John Hurt and the 79-year-old le Carre, whose 1974 novel has now inspired a major film and an award winning 1979 television series, all joined Alfredson on the red carpet ahead of the Sala Grande world premier of the Cold War thriller, which is screening in competition.
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The film, starring Gary Oldman in the role made famous by Alec Guinness in the seven-episode BBC series, earned kudos from le Carre, who said Oldman’s performance was a worthy successor to acting great Guiness.
“If Alec Guiness had witnessed Oldman’s performance he would have been the first to give it a standing ovation,” le Carre said. “Oldman pays fill honor to the genius of Guiness. He evokes the same solitude, inwardness, pain, elegance, and intelligence his predecessor brought to the part. If I met Guinesses’ version of Smiley on a dark night my instinct would probably be to ask him to protect me. But if I met Oldman’s I think I’d try to run away.”
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Also premiering in competition Monday was Dark Horse, an off-beat love story from Todd Solondz, and Tao jie (A Simple Life), a coming of age story from Chinese director Ann Hui.
But the event that attracted the most local attention Monday was the premiere of Questa Storia qua (This Story), a documentary about Italian rock singer Vasco Rossi from directors Alessandro Paris and Sibylle Righetti. The film attracted hundreds of music fans from around Italy, many of whom arrived in Venice on chartered busses, including a contingent from Zocca, the small town near Bologna where Rossi was born.
The 59-year-old Rossi is in poor health and so could not travel to the Lido for the event, but he sent a message read on the red carpet, which called the film “poetic.”
Monday’s events followed an action packed weekend on the Lido, including the out-of-competition world premiere of Wilde Salome, a kind of auto-documentary focusing on Oscar Wilde’s Salome, including Pacino’s own performances in the play and views on the iconic 19th century playwright, twisting them together in a tight narrative.
Pacino was also presented with the Jaegar LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker award, but said he preferred to speak about the film than the career honor, one of the most important mid-festival honors in Venice.
“I was always fascinated by Wilde’s life as a homosexual man living in the 1800s,” Pacino said. “He was a liberal thinkier, and a visionary in the sense that he wanted society to be more humane.”
On Sunday, singer-songwriter Patti Smith, in Venice for the release of the documentary Pivano Blues about her friend Fernanda Pivano, the Italian writer and critic who died two years ago at the age of 92. Smith gave an impromptu red carpet concert, and said she would dedicate her next album to recently deceased singer Amy Winehouse.
Saturday’s centerpiece was shared by Soderbergh’s out-of-competition thriller Contagion and Poulet aux prunes (Chicken with Plums), a quirky love story set in Tehran from the late 1950s from Iranian-born director Marjane Satrapi and France’s Vincent Paronnaud, while on Sunday McQueen’s exploration of a man’s struggle with his extreme sex life, took center stage.
Contagion, the story of a new virus that sweeps around the world killing millions, featured its own all-star cast, many of whom had relatively brief roles in the film, including Gweneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet. It was Winslet’s third film screening in Venice, along with Roman Polansky’s Carnage and Mildred Pierce, an HBO miniseries directed by Todd Haynes.
Soderbergh said it was incorrect to look at his film as a simple thriller. “I prefer to look at it as a film about process, about the reactions to this kind of crisis,” he said, adding that as a model he looked at All the President’s Men, the 1976 classic from Alan J. Pakula that won four Oscars and was nominated for four others, including best picture.
Satrapi said that Poulet aux prunes was a labor of love for her in part because it was set in a “democratic and open-minded” Iran that her generation — she was born in 1969 — could only read about in history books.
“It’s about all kinds of love: the love of a man for a woman he was never able to be with, a love or life, a love of music, a love of food, and also my own love for the period in my country’s history which has been lost,” she said.
McQueen, who won the Gucci Prize in Venice three years ago for Hunger, caused a buzz on the Lido Sunday with Shame, a lurid tale of man’s decline into a his sex addiction that screened in competition. The director said the main character, Brandon, played by Michael Fassbender, was a kind of everyman despite his shocking lifestyle.
“I love Brandon, he’s not so different than most us,” McQueen said. “He’s living with all the trappings of the modern world. This is a man who has access to everything, but his freedom imprisons him.”
The 68th edition of the storied festival, which got underway last Wednesday, concludes Saturday.
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