Venice 2018 round-up reviews: The Sisters Brothers, La Quietud, Sunset
Ivan Radford | On 08, Sep 2018
With Netflix and Amazon Studios both premiering titles at this year’s Venice Film Festival, we head to Italy to check out the latest streaming originals and catch up with some of the other titles on offer. Keep up-to-date with our full coverage here.
“Woo me, drown me, crush me… Disarm me, eat me, smoke me…” That’s the imperative issued by Mon Laferte, as she croons Amor Completo over the credits of Pablo Trapero’s latest, La Quietud – and that intoxicating, uninhibited desire coarses through the veins of this intense drama. It whisks us through the gates of the eponymous ranch, which is owned by a wealthy family whose patriarch suffers a strike – sending the estate into disarray.
His tragedy brings home Eugenia (Bérénice Bejo) from Paris, where sister Mia (Martina Gusman) and wife Esmerelda (Graciela Borges) are keeping things going. Tensions soon begin to crackle, as Eugenia’s boyfriend and Mia’s sweetheart Vincent (Edgar Ramirez) lead to romantic complications behind closed doors, while Esmerelda finds herself caught between their duelling prominence within the family and her husband’s links to past government secrets. Things descends into melodrama come the end credits, as things swiftly hit hysterical heights – both in terms of plot twists and emotions – but it’s gorgeously performed by the central trio, particularly Borges’ bitter and stoic mother. It’s the central bond between Bejo and Gusman, though, that fuels this fiery domestic tale, and they balance resentment and grief with an irrepressible bond of loyalty; the complete love spoken of in the steamy song that bookends the movie emerges less as a call to lusty betrayals and heated confrontations and more as an ode to sibling affection. Trapero, who is one of Argentina’s best directors, is not at the peak form of Carancho, White Elephant and The Clan, but he coaxes a delicious chemistry from his leading actors, who do just enough to keep this daft concoction of arch humour and highly strung family discord entertaining. The Clan enjoyed a day-and-date digital release in the UK. Expect this to attract a distributor looking to do the same.
László Nemes announced himself as a force to be reckoned with in his astonishing debut Son of Saul. After that groundbreaking piece, Sunset naturally struggles to make such a strong impression, as Nemes turns his camera to 1913 Budapest. Our window onto this city is Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab), who travels from Trieste to work at the famous Leiter hat shop. Once owned by her parents, who died in mysterious circumstances, the orphan’s homecoming riles the shackles of Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov), the man now running the place.
Secret backstories, high fashion and a European metropolis on the brink of war? Nemes sinks his teeth into the period milieu of this costume drama, introducing threats to the decorum in the form of Gáspár (Levente Molnár), a coachman who mutters something about hidden relatives, a nasty rich man from Vienna and a rising movement of violent anarchists. They all blur together in a way that doesn’t become as clear as you’d like, but Names and his co-writers are too busy conjuring up dreamlike visuals of the Hungarian capital and soaking in the pre-WWI dread lingering in the air. There’s wonder in that nightmarish cityscape, and the sense of plunging from the superficial beauty of millinery to the dark cobbled corners of social discontent; it’s just a shame that the plot doesn’t always live up to the vividly recreated atmosphere. Through it all, Jakab shines in a mesmerising, charismatic lead role, switching from earnest and innocent to glowering and suspicious like a Bronte or Austen heroine with added attitude. Much like Son of Saul, Nemes’ camera can’t take its eyes off her – less out of a feeling of horrifying claustrophobia and more because she’s holding this all together. Nonetheless, Nemes confirms himself as a tailor of bewitching cinema.
The Sisters Brothers
Seven years ago, Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brother brought the Western to crackling life between the pages of an amusing and grippingly violent book. It was strange, surprising and driven by two strange characters – and after winning a brace of awards (and being shortlisted by the Man Booker Prize), it was no surprise to find that the rights had been optioned for a movie adaptation. Now, it blasts onto our screens, with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as the eponymous siblings, and they turn a barn-storming read into a highly entertaining piece of cinema.
Like the book, though, this is no normal Western. The movie marks the English-language debut of Jacques Audiard, and he brings his lyrical eye to the genre: the opening shootout takes place in a sumptuously black nighttime, with vivid flashes of gunpowder the only source of illumination. Doing the shooting? Eli and Charlie Sisters, two assassins hired by their boss, The Commodore, to take out Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed).
The reason is a wonderfully offbeat one, which takes the story down an enjoyable unusual path, but the intrigue of the story stems less from plot twists and discoveries and more from the mystery that is people. The Sisters Brothers are psychopaths for hire, with Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) resigned to a life of killing folk their encounter, but Eli (John C. Reilly) curious about the more positive opportunities life holds, and even the possibility of valuing it. Eli’s simplistic take on existence narrated the novel, and Reilly’s likeable, innocent presence is the perfect conduit to bring it to the screen, contrasted to darkly comic effect by Phoenix’s grizzled presence. While Charlie’s undoubtedly tougher and in charge, he’s no more mature, saddled by a drinking problem that Phoenix plays with a seething anger but without indulging in double measures.
The always-excellent Riz Ahmed makes for an optimistic, enthusiastic addition to the ensemble – you can believe that his middle name is “Kermit” – and cuts a charming figure against the ruthless backdrop of 1850s Oregon, a place where toothbrushes have only just come into circulation. Jake Gyllenhaal echoes that upbeat humour as John Morris, an ambitious detective tasked with handing Hermann over to the Sisters, and it’s seeing these differing world views collide that makes The Sisters Brothers such a fun watch – a snapshot of America’s imaginative future and uneducated past at crossed points with each other, a portrait of very male melancholy, and a very funny ride through cinematic roads less travelled.