Sex, psychosis and spies lead the British charge

Venice Diary: Keira's chin, and other memorable turns

Cinematically speaking, I'm not the most fervent patriot. But I have to say that this year's Venice Film Festival belonged to the Brits. The three best competition films I saw were all British: Steve McQueen's Shame, Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights and (Swedish director notwithstanding) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which I'll review next week.

The Hits

Arnold's Wuthering Heights is exceptionally bold – anti-heritage cinema with a vengeance. Its Heathcliff (James Howson) is black, a foundling brought to an inhospitable moorland community, where his presence catalyses a storm of violent resentment. Shot with an eye for elemental intensity, this militantly de-prettified period drama may not be true to the novel's language, but certainly honours its spirit of extreme psychopathology.

As for Shame, this New York-set drama has a commanding performance by Michael Fassbender as a tormented sex addict. McQueen directs with a steeliness that represents a major advance on his Hunger. But the revelation is Carey Mulligan as the hero's troubled sister: anyone tempted to write her off, after An Education, as merely a Princess of Pert will eat their words.

The Misses

Madonna's W.E., about Wallis Simpson, was a rich woman's vanity project – a vacuous, sumptuously mounted fan letter to a dubious idol. Andrea Riseborough's brittle performance is far better than the film deserves. Still, Madonna can take comfort in not having drawn the most press show jeers. That honour went to That Summer, a French drama in which Euro-heart throb Louis Garrel is forever pouting disconsolately at having to shack up with sultry but wooden Monica Bellucci. Ah the ennui....

The Disappointments

Several eagerly-awaited titles didn't quite pull it off. Todd Solondz's Dark Horse was business as usual from the master misanthrope, a story of a suburban schlub that was witty enough but less confrontational than an episode of Arrested Development.

Alps was a demented conceptual drama by Giorgos Lanthimos, who made the Greek bombshell Dogtooth. But this downbeat story of a group who specialise in "replacing" the recently dead seemed to be running the same software again. Then there was David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, about a female patient of Freud and Jung. Scripted by Christopher Hampton, the film felt surprisingly staid. But there are fine performances from Michael Fassbender (again), Viggo Mortensen (a wonderfully dry Freud) – and also a bold if not entirely convincing Keira Knightley, whose chin undergoes such agonised contortions you wish Cronenberg had shot the film in 3D.

Off-piste highlights

1) Two Years at Sea, a superb docu-essay by British artist Ben Rivers, about the dream-like life of a hermit. 2) Whores' Glory, Michael Glawogger's eye-opening documentary about brothels in Bangkok, Mexico and Bangladesh, a nightmare parallel universe. 3) The restored We Can't Go Home Again, the 1973 experimental film by legendary director Nicholas Ray. No Hollywood mainstream name ever rebelled to make anything this far-out – Gus Van Sant eat your heart out.

Best Fun

By all normal criteria, Al Pacino's documentary Wilde Salome – about playing Herod on stage – was a wildly self-indulgent project by a dreadful old ham. But it's also a winning, crazily spirited outing by an irrepressible enthusiast who knows he's a comic turn. The revelation is Jessica Chastain as a ferocious Salomé. Who would have guessed from her levitating mom in The Tree of Life?

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living