Johansson alien film disappoints, Korean movie shocks at Venice

Reuters, Wednesday 4 Sep 2013

While Scarlett Johansson as an alien in Scotland yielded a tepid reaction at Venice, a film about mutilation and masochism by a South Korean directed got a very positive reaction from the audience

Scarlett Johansson at the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice September 3, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Scarlett Johansson as a predatory alien in Scotland got a lukewarm reception and a film about mutilation and masochism that is banned in the director's native South Korea roused disbelieving laughter at the Venice film festival on Tuesday.

Booing followed the customary applause after a press screening of "Under The Skin", a comeback for British director Jonathan Glazer, starring the "Lost in Translation" actress.

Described as "an undeniably ambitious but ultimately torpid and silly tale of an alien on the prowl" by trade magazine Variety, "Under the Skin" is one of 20 new films in competition for a prestigious Golden Lion at the 70th annual festival.

Korean director Kim Ki-Duk screened "Moebius" outside the competition, which he won last year with "Pieta", an absorbing thriller about a pitiless loan shark.

For "Under the Skin" Johansson as the alien Laura was filmed in real-life settings, including a shopping centre and a street in a drizzly Scottish town, surrounded by members of the public.

"People would take pictures of you with their cameraphone and not help you, all kinds of strange things," Johansson told a press conference.

This technique was an "important ingredient" in the film, said Glazer, known for the 2004 picture "Birth".

Laura drives around in a white van, stopping to chat coyly with young men in a cut-glass English accent.

Her mysterious beauty prompts one of the men she meets to comment, in a strong Scottish accent, that she reverses the trope of the creepy male motorist picking up female hitchhikers.

"It didn't bother me that the dialogue was indecipherable at times" as long as the characters' intentions and behaviour were clear, Glazer said.


Kim's tale of sex and pain, which starts with a woman cutting off her teenage son's genitals, is punctuated with cries of agony, rage and arousal, but barely any dialogue.

The mutilated young man and his father experiment with masochism and the son develops a relationship with the father's ex-mistress.

"While purporting to explore morality and mortality by tracking its male protagonists' pursuit of sexual gratification, Moebius offers bizarrely cartoonish characters whose erratic behaviour brims on the hilarious," said critic Clarence Tsui in trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter.

Kim has made a redacted version of the film to be shown in Korea, where authorities wanted to protect people who have not reached "psychological maturity", he said at a news conference.

"The problem of censorship will have to be tackled in the future," said Kim, whose film "The Isle" made two people faint when it was presented in Venice in 2000.

Kim said he is reproached for making violent films that seem to attack Korea.

"I criticise my country because I love my country. Loving my country doesn't mean that I should stop raising questions or that I should close my eyes," he added.

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