Cut: Venice Film Review

An insufferably pretentious descent into movie-madness and brutal masochism.

Veteran Iranian director Amir Naderi’s violent homage to Japanese cinema opens the Venice Film Festival’s edgy Orizzonti sidebar.

The idea of ‘suffering for one’s art’ is taken to unbearable extremes in Amir Naderi’s woeful Cut, a ludicrous psychological thriller about a passionate cinephile who falls foul of local Yakuzas. Apparently intended as a tribute to the greats of Japanese cinema, this misbegotten mess is a Japanese production that sees Iranian writer-director Naderi – a long-time exile in the U.S. – working in Japanese with Japanese actors. But only the most undiscerning adherent of that nation’s movies, or those who get a kick out of seeing people beaten to a pulp, will get much edification or enjoyment out of this repetitive, paceless 133-minute slog.

PHOTOS: Venice Film Festival: 10 Movies to Know

While never achieving the renown of countrymen Kiarostami, Panahi or Makhmalbaf, Naderi has built a considerable reputation over the past four decades, one that will likely result in a scattering of festival bookings for Cut. However, its noxious mediocrity will surely serve to shrink rather than bolster this following.

Naderi, 65, remains best known for his 1985 Iranian picture The Runner, and his latest Stateside production, Vegas: Based on a True Story (2008), whichcompeted for Venice’s Golden Lion. This follow-up opened the more experimental ‘Orizzonti’ sidebar this year, presumably because of its ultra-violence.

PHOTOS: On the Scene at the Venice Film Festival

Indeed opious amounts of blood are shed by our twentysomething protagonist, Shuji (Hidetoshi Nishijima), whose every waking hour is spent watching, planning and evangelizing about ‘pure’ cinema. “Most of today’s movies are made simply to entertain!” he bellows through a loudspeaker to an indifferent audience of Tokyo pedestrians. “In the past cinema was both true art and entertaining!”

Shoji mounts regular rooftop screenings of classics and he’s an engaging interpreter of the medium but his ardor is just a sprocket away from insanity. He’s pushed over the edge when his brother is killed. Shuji learns he must discharge his sibling’s huge Yazuka debts or suffer the same fate. His laughably implausible solution is to become a punching bag for the thugs who patronize a bar that doubles as boxing gym and gambling den, charging thousands of yen per blow.

The idea that criminals would pay cash for such a workout is silly enough, a daft concept that might possibly have worked in a crazy comedy. But despite the occasional touch of gallows humor, Naderi plays things disastrously straight, meaning we must endure 12 days of Shuji’s mercilessly pummeling in a picture that quickly turns into a showcase for Soichi Umezawa’s make-up effects.

The performers fare much worse in a relentlessly dingy-looking movie populated by cardboard ciphers rather than actual characters: Takako Tokiwa’s demure Yoko is, for example, about as unlikely a Yakuza-den barmaid as it’s possible to imagine. Shuji’s high-faluting cinephilia, meanwhile, chiefly serves to excuse a barrage of references, smug in-jokes and clips, each serving to emphasize the all-too-glaring deficiencies of Naderi’s latest contribution to the art form. “Cinema is already dying!” bellows Shuji, and the irony is that if this is indeed the case, the fault in no small part lies with egregiously tedious nonsense such as Cut.

Venue: Venice Film Festival
Production companies: Tokyo Story, Bitters End
Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Takako Tokiwa, Takashi Sasano, Shun Sugata, Denden
Director/editor: Amir Naderi
Screenwriter: Amir Naderi, Abou Farman, Shinji Aoyama, Yuichi Tazawa
Producers: Eric Nyari, Engin Yenidunya, Regis Arnaud, Yuji Sadai, Shohreh Golparian
Director of photography: Keiji Hashimoto
Production designer: Toshihiro Isomi
Costume designers: Kyoko Baba
Sales: Match Factory, Cologne
No rating, 133 minutes