70th Venice Film Festival day three: Joe and Golden Lion favourite Philomena
The third day of screenings at the Venice Film Festival had two solid Golden Lion candidates on the main schedule: Joe by David Gordon Green (in competition) and Philomena by Stephen Frears (in competition).
Joe by David Gordon Green
David Gordon Green is becoming one of the most versatile Hollywood directors; his filmography is extremely varied, from absurd comedies to intense dramas. He says he needs to keep himself motivated and that the thread linking all of these different movie styles will become clearer in the years to come.
From a screenplay by Gary Hawkins, Joe is based on the novel by the late Larry Brown, the former Mississippi firefighter renowned for his powerful, gothic storytelling and universal themes of honour, desperation and moral rectitude.
Set in the south of the United States, Joe is the story of a difficult man (Nicolas Cage), who respected by his peers but who constantly has troubles with the police due to his impulsive nature and inability to manage his anger. Soon he will be turning 50 and yet he feels like he hasn’t accomplished anything good in life – that is until he meets a young boy called Gary (Tye Sheridan) who gives him a life objective. Gary is busy protecting his sister and mother from his alcoholic, violent father and is working to support them. Joe becomes his father-like mentor, ready to do anything necessary to ensure Gary becomes the man he never was.
This is a brilliant story narrated with a slow but authentic touch. Cage delivers a memorable performance; the only disappointment is the lack of a convincing southern accent.
Philomena by Stephen Frears
This morning’s press screening welcomed the festival’s favourite candidate with a ten-minute ovation – and even some tears.
The story of Philomena is touching and real, based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by BBC journalist and former Labour advisor Martin Sixsmith.
After she fell pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena’s (Judi Dench) father sent her to the Catholic convent of Roscrea to be looked after as a “fallen woman”. When her baby was only a toddler, she was coerced by the nuns to sign a contract allowing for her baby to be taken away for adoption in America. Philomena spent over fifty years suffering and searching for him in vain.
One day her daughter Jane meets political journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who has recently been sacked by the Labour party because of the leaking of an email with a controversial comment on the 9/11 attacks. Martin is immediately attracted by her story and decides to help her travel to Ireland and the United States in an attempt to trace her lost son.
Philomena is a beautiful drama filled with delicate humour and emotional moments. Stephen Frears’ masterly direction maintains a difficult balance between the personal tragedy of Philomena, the professional struggle of Sixsmith and the underlying criticism towards the Irish Catholic convents.
The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat perfectly complements the mood of the movie, switching between lighter dialogues and profound moments of sorrow.
Philomena is not only the festival’s favourite, but also a potential hit for the Oscars next February.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
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