Venice/Venice” represents the definition of a vanity production. Sliding way over the line between personal cinema and egotism, Henry Jaglom’s ninth feature lacks either the colorful characters or innately interesting subject matter of his better films, and tells what is essentially a non-story in slight, schematic fashion. This will hardly match the success of Jaglom’s last effort, “Eating,” on the domestic specialized circuit.
Many directors make at least one picture about the filmmaking process or the world of cinema. Some are caustic critiques (“Sunset Boulevard,””The Player”), others emerge as meditations on romantic love (“A Star Is Born,””Contempt”), a few analyze the artistic process (“8 1/2”) or weigh the wages of celebrity (“Stardust Memories”), and at least one is disguised as something else (“Hatari!”).
Even when a filmmaker as eminent as Francois Truffaut made “Day for Night,” he played a workaday director less talented than himself, and when Jaglom hero Orson Welles made his unfinished “The Other Side of the Wind,” he cast John Huston, rather than himself, as a veteran director who resembled Welles only partially.
Jaglom takes a rather different approach. Portraying the director of the only American film in competition at the Venice Film Festival, Jaglom announces at the outset that he is a maverick. “I am the representative of the anti-establishment,” he states. “Risk is my middle name.”
His own self-image thus established, Jaglom builds a fragile little story about his curious relationship with attractive French journalist Nelly Alard, who is obsessed with his work. Jaglom gives her a sort-of interview that allows him to expound upon his own talents, pursues her a bit at lunch and around the pool, and finally makes out with her during a scenic gondola ride.
But Jaglom’s true intentions with her never become clear (he doesn’t suggest that they sleep together), and Alard comes to seem annoying and naive when she petulantly complains that Jaglom isn’t spending all his time taking care of her. As a working journalist, doesn’t she have films to see, reviews to write, people to interview? This relationship doesn’t feel right from the beginning, which alone would be enough to sink the picture.
After an hour, setting shifts to Venice, Calif., as Alard wanders in on a party Jaglom is throwing. Nothing much happens here except for some auditions in which Jaglom is looking for a woman to play his wife in an upcoming film to be called “Happy Endings.” Director veers vaguely into Truffaut territory with his deliberations on the relative importance of movies and life, with inconclusive results.
Stylistically, pic could serve to illustrate Hitchcock’s pet peeve, “photographs of people talking.” Staging consists mostly of placing people in chairs and plunking the camera down right across from them. Utterly elementary coverage is reduced even further by cutaways to unrelated objects or nearby people that function merely as a way of jumping to another point in the ongoing conversation.
Except for a couple of sequences, Venice, Italy, seems so depopulated that it’s hard to know if there’s even a film festival going on. Poolside setting for one long scene has so little character it could have been shot in L.A., and set-ups are generally kept so tight that almost no location atmosphere is created, a shame given the existing opportunity to draw an interesting visual comparison between the two unique cities.
Threaded through the picture is a chorus of straight-on interviews-to-camera in which a variety of women complain about how their childhood experiences at the movies misled them about what real life would be like. Familiar notion isn’t developed in any provocative way, rendering the device redundant and quickly tiresome.
Afew showbiz figures, such as director John Landis, production stalwart Pierre Cottrell, actress Diane Salinger, journalist Edna Fainaru and the late producer Klaus Hellwig, to whom the film is dedicated, turn up, but not nearly in the abundance necessary to provide enough authentic texture.
Seemingly given their heads in the dialogue department, thesps seem at a loss where to take the scenes. As with all of Jaglom’s films, a certain amount of charm and goodwill is generated by the homemade quality of the enterprise, but this fuzzy effort suffers from a feeling of not having been focused sufficiently in advance.