Venus was the Roman goddess of love, beauty and fertility. Her essence was captured by many artists; perhaps none more striking than in The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velazquez. It’s that image that haunts Venus and mocks the film’s emptiness. The film could never come close to capturing the beauty that Venus represented. Instead, it trivializes the image by shamelessly using it to bookend a protagonists’ catharsis. Films have agendas. They are made with one idea in mind. Usually, our theaters are filled with movies that have the goal of making money and we call that Hollywood. On the other hand, art houses are full of films that are made by the director, for the director. We typically call those directors auteurs, a French term meaning the film is the director’s sole vision (think David Lynch, Yasujiro Ozu, Jean-Luc Godard or Wong Kar-Wai). In between these two extremes you’ll find struggling filmmakers, shooting-star actors and actresses and the like. Venus falls squarely into the category of films for actors – specifically Peter O’Toole.
Venus is O’Toole’s latest run for an Oscar. After poking fun of the bourgeoisie in The Ruling Class and hanging out in the desert as Lawrence of Arabia, O’Toole has taken a different road to the Oscar. This time, he plays an aged actor fading from memory -- who happens to enjoy a bit of “drinky” and woman he’s old enough to grandfather. He takes a fancy to his friend’s daughter’s teenage niece, Jessie, and the two quickly form an unlikely friendship.
This type of sex-object to one, father figure to the other relationship has been explored before, thoroughly by Lolita and with a bit more pretension in Lost in Translation. Unfortunately, despite the casts’ effort, director Roger Michell’s sophomoric direction hampers any thematic elements. From an out-of-place, self-aware camera to time-lapsed photography, Michell’s does nothing other than emphasize O’Toole’s creepiness. The films faults also rest on the shoulders of writer Hanif Kureishi, as his transparent metaphors and heavy-handed dialogue fall as flat as a drunken O’Toole.
Through Jessie, there is a clear admiration for the acting profession. In turn, that glorifies both O’Toole’s character and the actor himself. In one line, Jessie says something to the effect that acting is so difficult and she could never do it. In that one line, the film screams “look at us, we’re acting!” as Michell’s self-aware lens implies. Other than an over glorification of the profession, the film offers nothing to outsiders. Venus is presented in a typical 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer – it’s crisp and vibrant. The soundtrack, however, is a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 that has an odd amount of action in the rear channels. Every so often, I would find myself caught off guard by loud sounds from the rear channels – something you don’t typically find in dialogue-driven films. It sparsely occurs, but it lacks the subtly to create an atmosphere.
In the way of special features, the feature-length audio commentary is the heftiest offering and even that is lacking. Michell and producer Kevin Loader are as dull as the film they crafted. There’s a much discussion about O’Toole and his approach to the role, but there’s very little in the way of entertaining anecdotes. Like wise, the behind-the-scenes featurette plays like a media kit video to sell the film. However, there is some test footage of the cast, specifically Jodie Whittaker, who plays Jessie, and adds a bit of vitality to the extra material. Aside from the mishmash of Miramax trailers, the “special” features are closed out by a handful of deleted scenes that once against prove that scenes are deleted for a reason – they are boring and would only add to the film’s run time.
For a film that was an O’Toole awards vehicle, you would think they would promote the leading man’s Oscar nomination. A retrospective with O’Toole on his career would have been tasteful in his golden year Oscar stab. Given the dullness of the DVDs current features, perhaps we should be thankful that our time wasn’t wasted with more features.
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