Venice September, 2011, the 54TH International Art Exhibition. To be alive and showered in the garden of artistic delights; Biennale, Arsenal, Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Pinault Foundation, Prada Foundation, surrounded by the canals and operatic voices of the gondoliers; paradise at its pinnacle; electrifying stimulation, nerves and senses paralyzed with wonderment.
This was not my first foray into the palatial magnificence of Venezia but it was my indoctrination into the contemporary explosion of art being created by universally talented artists working in all corners of the globe; artists harbored and supported by nations honoring creative genius, stellar imagination, ingenuity, courage and brilliant vision.
Going from Pavilion to Pavilion one is pelted visually, emotionally and sensationally by each country’s overwhelming desire to communicate, educate, shock and unveil its lust for giving birth to the legendary. Many succeeded but none to the extent of the Polish Pavilion.
Poland, a once glorious nation, tainted by WWII, the graveyard for over three million Jews; a proud people struggling to overcome the memories of the atrocities perpetrated upon its landscape. Yael Bartana, an Israeli-born video artist has produced three films revolving around the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP); a political organization rallying 3,300,000 Jews to return to the country of their ancestors.
“Mary Koszmary” (Nightmare) is desperately candid in tackling anti-Semitism, deep- rooted xenophobia, Zionism. A young activist (Slawomir Sierakowski) eulogizes, alone in a deserted Warsaw Stadium, reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech; proselytizing at its zenith; can the rift, the hardened distrust, divisiveness between the Poles and Jews ever evaporate, dissipate, eliminate exclusiveness, embrace inclusiveness?
The second film (“Mur I wieza”, Wall and Tower) is joyous propaganda; the building of a kibbutz (Muranow, a suburb of Warsaw), in the style of the 1930’s, by gorgeous, heroic pilgrims; shining young men and women; echoing the glowing idealism exhibited in Hitler’s youth brigade films or of Jews returning to their promised land; building present-day Israel. The sound track is riveting, ethereal, inspirational; filled with promise and inimitable possibilities.
The final film “Zamach” (Assassination) the most realistic and powerful, revolves around the fictional assassination of the leader of the Jewish Resistance Movement (“Nightmare”); his funeral is the metaphor for today’s violent proclivities; eliminate the “other”, anyone who does not comply with your intransigent decrees. The painful but truthful commentaries by actual survivors is heartbreaking and a masterful stroke by Yael Bartana, the first non-Polish national representing Poland in the Venice Biennale. She along with Poland should be lauded for gifting the world a stinging and compelling reason to open ancient wounds, expunge the insidious infection, recognize a painful rehabilitation, and heal.
Based on the play by Tracy Letts and directed by William Friedkin.
As a film critic I was in my comfort zone at the Venice Film Festival but personally did not desire nor dare to compete with the dazzling, bejeweled starlets, celebrities, hopefuls; my friend and I were happy in our comfortable anonymity, sharing the experience, and being part of the first audience, to see this ragingly, raunchy, raw rendition of a family pushed to the edge; options dead, every breath a premium; trailer park “trash” beautifully vitalized and depicted by some of the finest acting of the year.
Matthew McCaughey is “Killer Joe” an amoral lawman for murderous hire. Emile Hirsch, incandescent as “Chris” the 22 year old drug dealer who conjures his way to salvation by hiring Killer Joe to murder his mother for her life insurance policy; Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”) is “Ansel” the clueless, guileless, gullible father of Chris, duped into duplicity. Gina Gershon imbues “Sharla” with salty salaciousness, oozing cunning sexuality from every pore. Juno Temple, the English bombshell (“Dirty Girl”) is “Dottie”, positively pristinely riveting as a naïve “savant”, with beguiling innocence she floats, never quite involved but always aware of her lethal environment; she is “Cassandra”, “Baby Doll”, a “Siren” of captivating, sinuous, seductiveness, slithering around and imprisoning all she encounters.
The film, like the play demands and deserves its “R” rating; the blatant nudity, blood and brutality portray a world most shun but a world that exists; herein lies the power of the terrible tableau; never for a moment does one doubt or question the reality of a hell on earth; various renditions headline our newspapers, bludgeon our sensitivities on a daily basis; Warholian, repetition breeds ennui; immune to repugnance, we accept the horror, acknowledging its pervasive inevitability; praying its lethal tentacles never sense our presence.
“Killer Joe” has the contemporary nuances of a medieval morality play; herculean struggle to justify the means to produce the end, without writhing in moral turpitude. Joe never languishes; he is Faustian in his business arrangement; his code, like the commandments, chiseled in marble; a compassionless gentleman with the tongue of an angel, the soul of Beelzebub.
THREE & 1/2 STARS