Venus

Before I talk about Venus the film, let me introduce the Camera* Cinema Club. The CCC meets 10 times a year, and you watch a movie with a bunch of other movie fanatics. The key thing that I love about the Club is that you don’t know what film will be shown until the film starts. Plus the film is shown either pre-release (as it was in this case) or no-release (meaning it may never get normal distribution). You have to trust the guy who chooses the films, but after each event I am almost always glad I went.

Okay, now for the film itself. Venus is getting good buzz for a likely Oscar® nomination for Peter O’Toole, so I was really glad when I realized that’s what we were seeing, since I am hopelessly behind on my Oscar® viewing this year.

Venus is about Maurice (O’Toole), a semi-famous actor in his 70’s and his longtime friend Ian (Leslie Phillips). The film opens with them in a restaurant both going through the wide range of medication that they take on a regular basis, trying to decide which ones to take.

Ian’s 20-something grandniece Jessie is coming to stay with him. Ian thinks she can help him out around the apartment, and do a bit of cooking. But Jessie proves to be a typical 20-something, preferring to listen to her music, watch TV, eat, and drink (heavily, especially if someone else is buying). Soon Ian is at his wits end.

But Maurice takes a liking to Jessie, who wants to be a model but doesn’t seem to be doing anything towards that end. I won’t go further into the plot to avoid spoiling anything. But I will mention that Maurice’s ex-wife is played by Vanessa Redgrave, who is wonderful in the few scenes she appears in.

And acting is this film’s primary strength. Besides O’Toole’s Oscar®-buzz-worthy performance and Redgrave’s aforementioned role, Phillips provides excellent comic relief in a film that could be (and apparently was, in earlier cuts) too heavy. And newcomer Jodie Whittaker, who plays Jessie, manages to pretty much hold her own in this august company.

To me, the other big thing this film offers is an expression of living life in the present. Maurice knows his life is much closer to the end than it is to the start (“I’m about to die and I don’t know anything about myself” is an approximate quote, and a key one), and he reacts by living for today. It’s something I could do well to emulate, and it lifted the film from very good to excellent, in my view. Oh, and I enjoyed the soundtrack too.

After a Club film is over, there is generally a question and answer period, often with one or more of the filmmakers. In this case the director was planning to be available, but due to issues coming up they had to resort to a taped interview. Here are a few things from my notes:

  • O’Toole broke his hip during filming, but he had it replaced the next day and was back filming in four weeks
  • Whittaker auditioned only one week after finishing drama school
  • The director also made Notting Hill, and while he said he only makes films he wants to make, that applies more to Venus
  • A version of the film from only a few weeks ago had less humor, but since then lighter scenes were put back into the early parts of the film—this version is the one being given Oscar® consideration

Though it’s not perfect, I give it 4 out of 4 stars, which I have done very rarely in the last year.

Seen January 7, 2007.

* Disclosure: I am an investor in the Camera 7 theater, which is where the morning screenings for the Camera Cinema Club occur.

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