Mad men and lonely hearts in Venice

AFP, Wednesday 4 Sep 2013

Loneliness, excessive smoking, tattoos and deranged anti-heroes are some of the most recurrent motifs permeating the films screened at this year's Venice Film Festival

Terry Gilliam in Venice
Director Terry Gilliam poses during the photo call for the movie 'The Zero Theorem' at the 70th edition of the Venice Film Festival (Photo: AP)

MAD MEN: The prize for the most skin-crawling performance of an unbalanced social outcast goes to the anti-hero in James Franco's "Child of God", who kills women to have sex with their bodies. Milder versions of derangement unnerve or evoke sympathy in Xavier Dolan's thriller "Tom on the Farm", David Gordon Green's brutal "Joe" and Terry Gilliam's futuristic "Zero Theorem".

LONELY HEARTS: Amid a plethora of broken relationships, Robyn Davidson in "Tracks" weeps with only camels for company in the Australian desert, the hero of "Zero Theorem" refers to himself as "we" to keep himself company, and Sandra Bullock's astronaut character in "Gravity" misses her chance to romance George Clooney when their space shuttle is destroyed, flinging them into deep space.

CIGARETTES: Japanese master of animation Hayao Miyazaki goes to town with smoking in "The Wind Rises", with characters lighting up so often -- even fishing in ashtrays to find butts to smoke -- the film looks like a cigarette advertisement. Joe in "Joe" also coughs his lungs out splendidly, amid drags. British director Gilliam has his characters in a post-cigarette world get their buzz from smoking make-believe fags and exhaling pretend smoke.

ANIMALS: Dogs are the animal of choice, though many come to sticky ends. We also have deer, rats, camels, cows, a cat, a monkey and some pesky doves. The most moving portrayal has to be "Tracks", where black labrador Diggidy's fate had viewers sobbing, while a bloody, literal dog-eat-dog scene in "Joe" turned stomachs.

MOTHERS: Judi Dench drew tears with her portrayal of an Irish woman searching for her son after he was given up for adoption against her will in Stephen Frears' tragi-comedy "Philomena", while Canadian actress Lise Roy portrays a ghostly mother in mourning in "Tom on the Farm". Other mothers are longed for, as in "Tracks", or loathed and avoided at all cost, as in Emma Dante's "A Street in Palermo".

VIOLENCE: Where to begin? Alien Scarlett Johansson kills men for their flesh in Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin", "Child of God" was based on a real-life killer who also inspired "Silence of the Lambs", the alcoholic father in "Joe" beats his son until slipping over the line into murder, and the brother in "Tom at the Farm" strangles his victim in a corn-field.

TATTOOS: The most elegant tattoo is seen in "A Street in Palermo", where the protagonist has a slender black line from earlobe to wrist. Canada's Dolan -- who stars in his own film -- wins for the most unique, with three tattoos on his inner forearm taken from his feature films. He also has a copy of Henri Matisse's "The Flight of Icarus" on his upper arm and -- as he kindly showed AFP -- two figures intwined near one of his armpits.

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