Freitag, 29. August 2014

Venice Film Festival: The President / La rançon de la gloire (The Price of Fame)

"The President" feels interminable as it follows a fallen dictator of "an unknown country" flee with his grandson across a land savaged by tyranny. As if afraid the audience would otherwise not know the calamity an authoritarian regime could wreak, maimed prisoners, broken families, soldiers-turned-rapists and street-side corpses are the mainstay on screen. It's not that Iranian writer/director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's heart is not in the right place, it's just that the way he goes about it is so stating the obvious it's like making an entire movie about how torture is bad and diseases are undesirable. The "La vita è bella (Life Is Beautiful)" conceit, which is only halfheartedly carried out here, isn't enough to dramatize the innocence of the child because the contrast to all the horrors is ill-established. The one interesting scene throughout, where the little boy, hearing the familiar military melody he used to march to in the palace, threatens to blow the duo's cover, is cut short and gone to waste. Heavy-handed, repetitive, ending on an ickily pretentious note, this is one major disappointment.

One has to ask what a film like French writer/director Xavier Beauvois' "La rançon de la gloire (The Price of Fame)" is doing in the official competition line-up. Chronicling two petty criminals' scheme to steal Charlie Chaplin's coffin for ransom in 1977 Switzerland, the tone-deaf screenplay is so thoroughly unfunny it fails to register as a comedic heist, a buddy movie or even on the level of pure physical gags. The direction is clumsy, leaving long stretches of ineffective banter clogging the narrative flow while displaying little sense of timing with off editing choices. The whole subplot about the circus that pops up later in the story, in fact, so random and unproductive, should have been left on the cutting room floor. The acting is shrill. From both lead actors Benoît Poelvoorde and Roschdy Zem down to the supporting players, everybody gives the impression of an awkward desperation, helplessly begging for laughs. Neither the muted production design that doesn't really reflect the timely flair nor the generically bombastic score helps things in any way.

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