People who get most of their ideas about love and romance from the movies usually risk disappointment. Yet, in "Venice/Venice" (Music Hall, NuWilshire), Henry Jaglom happily runs the risk. He plays a moody, prickly, woman-obsessed independent American filmmaker who strikes up a romance with a French journalist (Nelly Alard, of "Eating") at the Venice Film Festival--and then has to decide whether to make the fantasy a reality.
It's another sweet, dreamy, but abrasively alive and offbeat Jaglom film, full of vividly spontaneous performances and stinging insights. Shooting once again on a near shoestring, and opportunistically seizing on events and people around him, Jaglom constructs another imaginary cinematic diary, this time unusually warm and lush.
The film germinated when Jaglom attended the 1989 Venice Film Festival with "New Years' Day" and decided to turn the experience into a movie. Working with actors playing "characters" (himself as director Dean, Alard as Jeanne, Suzanne Bertish as ex-lover Carlotta, Daphne Kastner as gofer Eve) and others playing themselves, Jaglom keeps toying with the idea of life invading the movies and vice versa. He shoots scenes against real events and crowds, incorporates TV interviews he granted at Venice and keeps cutting in "documentary" footage: interviews where anonymous women discuss how movies shaped their romantic lives and led them into letdowns.
"Venice/Venice" is really about two kinds of movie dreams: the one of inhabiting a movie and the one of controlling movies behind the scenes, pulling the magical strings. Like many films on filmmaking--"8 1/2" "The Stunt Man," "The Player" or "Prenom: Carmen"--it's full of abrupt tonal shifts, alienation effects. Its best moment may be a simple, lyrical scene when Dean wonders out loud if they're all living in his movie, points to an "imaginary" camera, and all his actors slowly, raptly turn toward the real one.
There's a conscious double edge. The two Venices are in Italy and California, where Dean lives and works, and the story is as much about the interpenetration of two cultures, two worlds, as about a romance. In Italy, the lovers loll in a gondola, drifting down canals accompanied by Shostakovich. In America, they linger on a sun-scarlet boardwalk and Oceanside. The images are so conventionally romantic, they border on kitsch--and, in a way, they are kitsch: re-created movies, by people who want to live in one. The film concludes with an image on a Moviola: the gondola scene from Venice, Italy, replaying to empty chairs in Venice, Calif.
Risk" is my middle name," Jaglom's Dean says cockily, and he doesn't avoid all risks of self-revelation. The subplot with Melissa Leo as his current lover--she conveniently decamps after Jeanne's appearance--might be described as too "romantically correct" to be convincing. But while part of this seems a bit egocentric--we not only get an exhaustive catalogue of Jaglom's seduction techniques, but a celebration of himself as filmmaker at his hour of high international recognition--part is consciously critical and even sarcastic.
Dean, Jaglom's alter-ego, is a product of another mixed culture, a transplanted New Yorker in California, tempering his spikiness to fit the mellower background. And, just as he lusts for European civility and cultural awareness, the journalist Jeanne, an Americanophile who always dreamed of watching Pacific sunsets, is, in turn, attracted by U.S.-style directness and verve.
"Venice/Venice's" unabashedly personal quality sustains it, in the interviews, the performances (especially Alard's), the languid camera moves. This is a film (Times rated: Mature, for language) that alternately caresses and strikes, but its flaws are the flaws of humanity, rather than marketing plans. When it tells us something about love, dreams and disappointments, it speaks from the center and its voice is warm, steady and hearteningly clear.
Nelly Alard: Jeanne
Henry Jaglom: Dean
Suzanne Bertish: Carlotta
Melissa Leo: Peggy
A Rainbow Film Company presentation of a Jagfilm production. Director-screenwriter-editor Henry Jaglom. Producer Judith Wolinsky. Cinematographer Hanania Baer. Music Marshall Barer, David Colin Ross. With Daphna Kastner, David Duchovny, John Landis. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
Times-rated: Mature (Language).