Love, wrinkles and all, conquers Venice
Love conquers all, even when wrinkles become part of the equation. That’s the message from Helen Mirren and from Venice, appropriately the world’s oldest film festival.
An art form that for decades was constructed around the dynamics of youthful sexuality has belatedly discovered that, when it comes to love and sex, there are other stories to tell, and audiences waiting to hear them.
After Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, 81 and 79 respectively, hooked up for the fourth time in their illustrious careers in Netflix drama “Our Souls at Night,” now it is the turn of Mirren, 72, and Donald Sutherland, 82, to fly the flag for love in later life.
In “The Leisure Seeker”, Italian director Paolo Virzi’s first English language film, the duo play a retired couple who decide to flee their stifling existence and its cast of doctors and bossy grown-up children, for a final road trip in their vintage 1970s camper van.
Mirren said she had been drawn to the “funny, natural story” after some initial hesitation. “Of course I love watching movies with young beautiful people in them,” she told AFPTV in an interview in Venice.
“But the wonderful thing about film as an art form is that it has this ability to show us culture and life and humanity in all its different ways of being. “And it had Donald Sutherland in it!”
Sutherland, whose career has ranged from 1967 World War II epic “The Dirty Dozen” to the recent Hunger Games franchise, plays a retired teacher who can still recite pages of Hemingway but is losing his short-term memory and is no longer entirely reliable at the wheel of a vehicle.
Mirren’s character is battling cancer but remains the couple’s driving force and the actress says the charm of the story lies in its universal quality.
“Every single family on this planet today will go through a version of this,” she said.
The couple’s journey takes them from Boston to Key West in Florida, allowing them time to nurture each other, discuss what comes after this life and go over a shared stock of memories, not all of which have been previously shared.
“Obviously we are dealing with people — as we are — who are towards the ends of our lives not the beginning of their lives,” Mirren said.
“And with that comes all of our history of experience and all the film festivals we’ve been to, and all the roles that we’ve had and the successes we’ve had, and the failures we’ve had, the disasters, the families, the relationships.
“It’s wonderful to be able to find a role and a film where you simply kind of be who you are.”
Sutherland concurred: “It was an opportunity to get to the centre of some kind of truth and use our persons as a vehicle for it,” he said. “Being old does not in any way diminish love and desire.”
It can however lead to confusion: one of the road trip’s most endearing moments features Sutherland jovially participating in a pro-Trump demonstration and his wife reminding him of his lifelong support for the Democrats.
The grey dollar
“It’s a film about being free to choose how to live your life right up to the last moment,” said Virzi, whose film was presented here in competition for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion.
Redford and Fonda have received rave reviews for their measured performances in “Our Souls at Night”, which tells the story of widowed neighbours who begin sharing a bed, for company and conversation.
Redford, a major voice in US independent cinema through his Sundance Institute, said he had chosen the project specifically because not enough films were being made for and about his now-retired baby-boomer generation — arguably the last that will be regular cinema goers in the age of streaming and digital home projectors.
The power of the grey dollar, euro and pound has been underlined in recent years by the success of the Marigold Hotel films about British retirees in India.
Love in the twilight years was also addressed in Andrew Haigh’s acclaimed “45 Years”, for which Charlotte Rampling, 71, was nominated for the 2016 Best Actress Oscar for her performance as a long-married woman destabilised by revelations about a passionate relationship her husband had in his youth.
Rampling returns to the screen here this week in the premiere of “Hannah”, 35-year-old Italian director Andrea Pallaoro’s drama about a woman unhinged by her husband being sent to prison.