Bad Boys on the Lido | Dispatches from the Venice Film Festival

Cinema Vérité, Meet Your Maker!

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E. Nina Rothe

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"Pet Shop Days" Image Courtesy the Filmmaker

They are fun to watch and sometimes, even more fun to date. They don’t follow the rules but make up their own philosophy as they go along. They dress outside the fashion norms and they listen to alternative music. We love to hate them but also love to love them. They are the inimitable bad boys and this year at the Venice Film Festival they were everywhere. On and off the big screen.

It was clear from their line up announcement in late July that this year’s Venice International Film Festival would be focusing on men’s stories. From Wes Anderson’s Roald Dahl-inspired The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel and Ralph Fiennes; to Michael Mann’s Ferrari, starring Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari; to Bradley Cooper’s sophomore directorial venture Maestro, a Netflix release where Cooper also stars as sexually fluid music legend Leonard Bernstein, it was a man’s world on the Lido.

A lot of the stories told unpredictably came to life because of women stealing the show—as in Maestro where Carey Mulligan plays the maestro’s wife Felicia Montealegre Bernstein with warmth and gusto, and Ferrari which becomes a runaway hit, pardon the pun, thanks to Penelope Cruz’s performance as the gun-toting Mrs. Ferrari. But the lack of stars on the red carpets, due to the SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike and the WGA dispute, was more than made up for by the abundance of controversy surrounding some of the projects.  

"Maestro" Image Courtesy of Netflix

Should Roman Polanski’s latest, a bit of an unresolved farce titled The Palace, co-written by 2022 Academy Award nominees Jerzy Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska, have been in the Venice lineup despite Polanski’s inability to travel outside of France and Switzerland due to his 1977 sexual abuse charge in the US? What about Luc Besson’s Dogman, which had critics divided on its worth, but which also got tongues wagging on the Lido because of Besson’s alleged 2018 rape charge? And last but not least, Woody Allen, present at the festival with his first fully in French production, titled Coup de Chance, which not only had a bad boy at the helm but also featured a real bad man as the central male figure in the story… Well, never mind that the latter two, Besson and Allen, have been cleared of their issues or never faced any charges at all. In #MeToo land, once your name has been dragged through the mud, you should not be allowed to clean up and wear a tux. Anywhere. Ever. It seems. And the women bearing their breasts at the Coup de Chance premiere certainly tried to make that point.

The greatest bad boys though were the ones featured in the films, on the big screen at this year’s festival. From Olmo Schnabel (yes son of that Schnabel!) came a provocative debut as a director, titled Pet Shop Days, starring The House of Flowers actor Darío Yazbek Bernal and Jack Irv—who co-wrote the film along with Schnabel and Galen Core. Following an accident, Alejandro, played by Bernal, arrives in NYC from his privileged, yet problematic upbringing in Mexico, only to find in Jack, you guessed it played by Irv, a soul mate and a peer. But will this union be beneficial for both, or neither of these beautiful young men?

When I asked Schnabel if he thought the two characters in his film were bad boys, he answered with an immediate, “They most certainly are!” He then continued, explaining, “Also, life makes us bad when we’re good. We change. I think that Jack is not bad, deep down, but ultimately there is a lot of bad behavior and bad choices. But they are both products of their environments and because of a certain emptiness, they are searching for the unknown and when you’re playing that game, the world is your oyster. Anything can happen.”

"The Killer" Image Courtesy of Netflix

Another film which deals with the idea of life and bad choices making someone into a bad boy is Robert Kolodny’s The Featherweight, an American biographical sports drama on professional boxer Willie Pep. The film is an Appian Way Productions release, which means that Leonardo Di Caprio is behind this documentary within a film, tackling the life of the “winningest” boxer once the winning has stopped. Does a champ always remain a winner or is he destined by life and those around him to become a loser? Kolodny conceded that Pep, played magnificently by actor James Madio who also co-produced on this project, is “very much a bad boy,” and that there are a few bad boys in the film, including Pep’s junkie son Billy Jr., played by Keir Gilchrist.

“The story came from James Madio,” Kolodny admitted during an interview with FLAUNT at the Quattro Fontane hotel, “who was a child actor growing up in the Bronx, and his father, when he was young would tell him, ‘one day you should play Willie Pep’ because he’s Italian-American, and he’s the same stature as you.” Madio would go around with a cutout of the boxer, kept a photo of him pasted on his mirror and then by chance, one day in Los Angeles, found the screenwriter for the project Steve Loff thanks to a flower delivery. The rest, as they say, is bad boy history.

From fact to fiction, well let’s call him a real bad boy character played with a fictional twist in the story, by way of Pablo Larraín’s latest film El Conde, also a Netflix release. Larraín turns Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet into a 250 year old vampire, complete with cape, but also old man sneakers and a walker. At night, he takes flight and pounces on unsuspecting victims, tears out their pulsing hearts to turn them into smoothies. During the day, he has to deal with a nun-turned-vampire-hunter and his five adult children who bore him to tears.

"Ferrari" Image Courtesy of Lorenzo Sisti

Larraín’s inspiration to make Pinochet into a vampire came from a need to see the dictator portrayed in a film, something which unbelievably has never been attempted before. On why the Chilean auteur, whose woman-centric films include Spencer, Ema and Jackie, choose the vampire, horror genre, Larraín admitted that with his collaborators “we wanted to show the brutal impunity that Pinochet represents. Showing him head on for the first time so the world can feel his true nature: see his face, smell his scent. For that, we have used the language of satire and political farce, where the General suffers an existential crisis and must decide if it is worth continuing his life as a vampire, drinking the blood of his victims, and punishing the world with his eternal evil. An allegorical reminder of why history needs to repeat itself in order to remind us of how dangerous things can become.”

Finally, from an assassin justified by the politicians of the world, including one figure who turns up at the end of the film to make El Conde a runaway hit, to a hired killer, who uses a mantra to keep true to his mission. This film features an award-worthy performance by Michael Fassbender as the unnamed assassin in David Fincher’s The Killer — yet again a Netflix production. It does seem like it’s a Netflix world out there and we may just all be living in it these days.

"The Featherweight" Image Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

“Stick to your plan. Anticipate, don’t improvise. Trust no one. Never yield an advantage. Fight only the battle you’re paid to fight...” This is the narration we hear as Fassbender’s hitman prepares, first for a hired killing and then while hunting down a slew of characters in a film that redefines the ultimate bad boy. Here he is, calm, collected and apparently unfeeling but in those moments when the camera stops on Fassbender’s icy stare, we see a whole world of passion and turmoil behind those eyes. And the faint glimmer of an Oscar or a Golden Globe statuette.

The Killer is based on a French graphic novel series by author Alexis “Matz” Nolent and artist Luc Jacamon. “We thought it would be interesting if the ‘cool’ assassin movie tropes were all taken away,” said Fincher and makes his unnamed assassin a James Bond type who shops at Home Depot. This man travels economy, stays at chain hotels and eats his egg McMuffin without the bun, Keto diet style. He listens to The Smiths while waiting for his victims and uses the names of TV characters as his fake identities. This killer also dons a hat, much like the inspiration for the character, French actor Alain Delon as Jef Costello in 1967 neo-noir crime thriller Le Samouraï. But it’s not a fedora in this case, it’s a black bucket hat.

Proving that bad boys live by their own fashion rules and can make even the uncool seem like a must-have. And they are all coming soon to a movie theater near you.

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Venice Film Festival, Flaunt Magazine, E. Nina Roth