LIDO, Venice, Italy – Sunday was a day of triumph for Brendan Fraser and Penelope Cruz. Both won critical cheers as they world-premiered their new movies at the Venice Film Festival.
Fraser proved the Oscar buzz surrounding his titanic performance as Charlie, a morbidly obese schoolteacher in “The Whale,” was hardly overstated. Outfitted with massive prosthetics as a man so overweight he’s incapable of almost all movement, Fraser presents an incredibly sweet guy mourning his gay lover and hoping to reconnect with his teenage daughter.
“I needed to learn to move in a new way,” Fraser said of the transformative process. “I developed muscles I did not know I had. I felt a certain sense of vertigo at the end of the day when all the appliances were removed. That undulating feel of stepping off a boat onto land.”
As for how he’s navigated the roller coaster ride that’s characterized his career from early hits like “The Mummy,” “George of the Jungle” and “Gods and Monsters” to oblivion and back, “I’m just trying to stay in today,” he answered — and the international press applauded.
“My journey to where I am now has been to explore as many characters as I can and this presented the biggest challenge. Far and away Charlie is the most heroic man I’ve ever played. Because his superpower is to see the good in others — and that’s his journey of salvation.”
Penelope Cruz’s work as a ’60s wife and mother of three in the Italian language “Immensity” also brought cheers and tears. It’s a semi-autobiographical drama of the veteran Italian director Emanuele Crialese’s own gender identity issues. Cruz, an emotionally and physically abused wife, is heading to a breakdown and a sanitarium.
“I’m fascinated by what happens inside every family,” she said, noting that the film’s many layers means it tackles multiple issues, including spousal violence. “This mother represents a lot of different kinds of mothers. You see what she is inside (although) the film is from the children’s point of view.
“The four of us had to become children to accept this scary reality in order to survive. To protect them she has to pretend she doesn’t see some things. But she sees everything. The way he showed that is genius, mesmerizing.”
This weekend writer-director Paul Schrader world premiered his new movie, “Master Gardener,” and accepted the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.
“Gardener,” a steamy, continually surprising romantic drama starring Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton, marks Schrader’s 19th feature as director.
Now 76, he was first celebrated as the screenwriter of the Martin Scorsese-Robert De Niro classics “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.”
As he segued to directing he was known for being provocative and often extremely violent with movies like “Cat People,” “American Gigolo” and “Auto Focus,” about the murder of TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane. “Gardener” continues familiar Schrader themes but the violence is toned down.
“Garden is the oldest metaphor in art,” he said, referring to the Garden of Eden. “I was thinking, my characters are always in hiding. So originally I thought he was a witness in Witness Protection, a hitman or a mob guy which is cliché. But put a cowboy in the garden? We can see if he can be forgiven.”
Schrader found his “cowboy” in Australia’s Edgerton (“The King,” “Loving”).
“Both Ethan (Hawke) and Oscar (Isaac) said they’d love to do it,” Schrader revealed of his most recent leading men. “But this is a Bob Mitchum kind of guy, a big slab of beef” — who was among Hollywood’s biggest and most enduring postwar stars. “Who’s like that guy today? Joel Edgerton. That’s how it all started.”
Edgerton’s Narvel Roth is the horticulturalist in charge of the sumptuous estate of Weaver’s demanding and commanding owner Norma.
“I read the script a couple days before I met Paul — and it was a revelation, so different from any script I’ve ever read,” Weaver said. “It was a ‘vertical’ script: very simple on top but so much detail (below) and so much passion in this particular story.
“I’ve always admired Paul’s work,” she noted, “but I never dreamed of working with him. All the roles are fleshed out. Especially Norma, one of the best roles I’ve ever had.”
What, Schrader was asked, were the most significant of his movies? He cited “Mishima,” about Yukio Mishima, the Japanese writer, filmmaker and nationalist who committed hara-kiri, as his favorite.
“It’s the damnedest thing! I can’t believe I made that film. But I’ve been lucky. I’ve made some zeroes, as we all do, but more and more (my) films seem to have a shelf life.”