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venus_in_fur_1The south­ern Cali­for­nia of Gia Coppola’s debut fea­ture Palo Alto seems idyll­ic on the sur­face. Long hot sum­mer days, teen­age free­dom and lim­it­less pos­sib­il­ity, but it soon becomes appar­ent that this world of sex, drugs, parties and (occa­sion­ally) high school is more night­mare than dream. Teen­age Teddy (Jack Kilmer) crashes his car while drunk and reluct­antly embarks on com­munity ser­vice. His high school crush April (Emma Roberts) is equally aim­less and becomes an easy tar­get for babysit­ting cli­ent and soc­cer coach Mr B (James Franco).

Mean­while, best friend and bad egg Fred (Nat Wolff) gets more nihil­ist­ic by the day, and pretty Emily (Zoe Lev­in) quietly accepts every sexu­al offer that comes her way. Par­ents are, of course, either phys­ic­ally absent, emo­tion­ally absent or psy­cho­lo­gic­ally absent, leav­ing these chil­dren to run wild through their neigh­bour­hoods at the mercy of pred­at­ors — and each other.

It’s a soul­less and soul-crush­ing exist­ence rendered into a fairly soul-crush­ing film. Cop­pola knows that her film is in a tra­di­tion of SoCal teen movies — the kids watch a clip of Fast Times at Rid­ge­mont High on TV — but is she try­ing to tell us that life is so much worse now than it was then? But how would she know? She was only born in 1987. As grand­daugh­ter of Fran­cis (and niece of Sophia), Gia Cop­pola is Hol­ly­wood roy­alty, and the par­ti­cip­a­tion of so many oth­er chil­dren and pals of big names reeks of an in crowd — Jack Kilmer’s dad Val (once was Bat­man) even cameos.

As you get older, I dis­cov­er, you get less defin­it­ive, less cer­tain and find your­self ask­ing more ques­tions. The answer I find myself giv­ing to most ques­tions these days is, “It depends”. In the 52nd year of a fea­ture film­mak­ing career, Roman Polanski has made a film that inter­rog­ates its sub­ject rather declaims it, and keeps you guess­ing rather stat­ing the obvious.

In Venus in Fur (a screen adapt­a­tion of a stage play adapt­a­tion of the fam­ously notori­ous book that gave us the phrase sad­o­mas­ochism), an act­or attempts to win a role in a play called Venus in Fur. There’s no end to the game play­ing, and some know­ledge of Mr Polanski’s career and tur­moil is help­ful — and also icky — in appre­ci­at­ing many of the lay­ers, not least that the act­or play­ing the act­or is his real-life wife Emmanuelle Sei­gn­er, and the dir­ect­or (Math­ieu Amal­ric) could be a dop­pel­gang­er for Polanski himself.

Now Polanski is a prob­lem­at­ic char­ac­ter, to say the least, but there’s no deny­ing that he isn’t search­ing for some­thing and — unlike the untar­nished-by-com­pet­ence Palo Alto — he knows how to present it on screen.


Also in August




Opens 7 August: The Mar­vel com­ic book uni­verse plays overtly for laughs, which is a gamble for the second-biggest enter­tain­ment behemoth on the plan­et. Fea­tur­ing Brad­ley Cooper as a talk­ing rac­coon and Vin Dies­el as a stick.




Opens 16 August: Thirty-two years after he made his tele­vi­sion debut, one of the great her­oes of our time finally gets the big-screen treat­ment. Fea­tur­ing a star-stud­ded cast (if you don’t count the singing voice of Ron­an Keating).


20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (Iain For­syth, Jane Pollard)

 20,000 days on earth

Opens 21 August: Nick Cave gets the unusu­al doc­u­ment­ary treat­ment he deserves. With two sold-out con­certs at the St James in Decem­ber, it truly is the year of Cave.


THE ROVER (Dav­id Michôd)

Opens 26 August: Michôd’s Anim­al King­dom was an elec­tri­fy­ing thrill­er and the best Aus­trali­an debut for a gen­er­a­tion. The fol­low-up har­nesses the star power of Robert Pattin­son to char­ac­ter act­or Guy Pearce and a dis­tinctly ’Stray­an take on the mod­ern post-apocalypse.[/info]


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