Thursday, December 9, 2010

HEMINGWAY'S GARDEN OF EDEN opens, with its celebrity name plastered up-front; at the round-table with its two actresses.

That's right: Begin your movie's title with the famous name of the author of the book on which the film is based -- even if it is but a pale imitation of that book -- and maybe you'll sucker in a few more ticket buyers. Until word gets out. Let me add to that word by saying that HEMINGWAY'S GARDEN OF EDEN is a stillborn film in almost every way, including the lovely sets, locations and costumes (which are made much of in the press materials because, I suppose, there's so little else to remark upon) and its two gorgeous actresses (worth much more than this film), one of whom has a one-note character which she batters home at every opportunity, the other who has no character at all.

H's GOE was directed by jourmeyman filmmaker John Irvin (at right) -- who has made some interesting movies in his time (The Dogs of War, Turtle Diary, Raw Deal, Hamburger HillWidow's Peak, A Month by the Lake, City of Industry) -- but he needs a decent script from which to work. Here, he has one of the worst of his career, and, boy, does it show. The screenplay by James Scott Linville is the fellow's first try in this medium, and I am certain his next one will have to be better. In H's GOE everything from situation to characterization (when the latter is there at all) is set forth in what can only be called a blatant manner. To be fair, the film was cut down, it seems at the last minute, from a nearly two hour running time to only an hour-and-a-half. A certain amount of substance, perhaps even subtlety, may have been lost -- though I am told by someone familiar with both versions that the press is lucky to have seen only the shorter.

The story concerns a young American writer (Jack Huston, above left) living in Europe during the Jazz Age who meets an attractive and very wealthy young woman (Mena Suvari, above right) who chases and captures him -- via looks, sex and gifts (like that nifty auto, above) -- and thereafter makes his life (and I'm afraid, ours, for the next hour or so) a living hell. Along the way, the pair meets a gorgeous young woman (Caterina Murino, below) apparently breaking up from her older, lesbian partner, whom they bring into their unpleasant fold. Sexual identity is played around with in desultory fashion, a Hemingway story is filtered into things, and Richard E. Grant makes an appearance as a would-be lecherous, middle-aged man. But no theme, no character, nothing is followed through to any kind of satisfying completion.

Hubby undergoes writer's block (almost never captured decently on film: see the new Public Speaking for the thankfully short and definitive version of the phenomenon). This happens and then that happens, none of it at all important or interesting, until the event occurs in which wifey goes a step too far. And even this isn't very interesting. So the viewer must ogle the locations (nice!), scenery (nice!), the costumes (nice! -- and apparently they come from real "period" material!), that car (nice!) and other objects that in any self-respecting movie would be no more than pleasant background frou-frou. Here they provide viewers a bit of redemption.

The performances are all you could want from a dull, semi-soap-opera. Mr Huston plays "put upon" as well as possible. What is particularly right about the actor is his body -- which is utterly "period": no abs nor muscles of any kind show up here. Consequently, he looks exactly like a leading man of this time frame.  (And wait till you get a gander at his and his wife's "twin" haircuts!) Even an actress as fine as Spain's Carmen Maura is wasted in the non-role of manager of the villa that the couple rents.

Ms Suvari (above) might have chosen to play against her "crazy bitch wife" role, finding the vulnerabilities of this woman. Instead she plays right into it and bores us silly. Suvari has a gift for crazy comedy, as well as for crazy drama (see her in Scott Caan's The Dog Problem or Stuart Gordon's Stuck), so it's a waste that she's not more interesting here. Ms Murino, who has a number of good roles in European films to her credit, pretty much walks away with the movie by virtue of her great beauty and exotic appeal -- not unlike that of Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida when they first hit American screens. But since she is given exactly nothing to do and no character definition, the actress becomes just another part of those great locations, decor and costumes (nice!).

Hemingway's Garden of Eden, via Roadside Attractions, opens Friday, December 10, around town and across country. Once its distributor sees its way clear to post playdates, click here (and then click on Release dates and cities at bottom left) to learn if the film is playing near you. (In NYC, the film will open at the Quad Cinema.)

All photos are from the film itself, except that 
of Mr. Irvin, which comes courtesy of InsideFoto.

Normally TrustMovies wouldn't bother with interviews for a film he didn't like. But since he has found both Survari and Murino to be quite capable and interesting in other movies, he thought it would be fun to meet them both. And it was. Our roundtable was made up of several bloggers who met together at the top of Manhattan's semi-fabled Playwright's Tavern.

Caterina Murino, originally from Italy but now living in France, speaks four languages fluently -- Italian, Spanish, French and English -- and has worked with various directors worldwide, including New Zealander Martin Campbell ( in Casino Royale), Italian director Gianni Zanasi (Don’t Think About It), Frenchmen Pierre Ferrièr (in the fabulous short Toute Ma Vie) and Alexandre Arcady (Comme le cinq doigts de la main), Brits Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson (St. Trinian's) and now John Irvin for this latest film (though H’sGOE was actually made nearly three years ago), plus a popular television series called Winds of Water for last year’s Best Foreign Language Film winner, Argentine director Juan José Campanella.

Mena Suvari, scoring her big break in as the object of Kevin Spacey’s desire in American Beauty, has also appeared in American Pie and American Virgin (the girl is patriotic – give her that!) after which she’s made a slew of movies (in all, she’s had 46 roles on film and TV) that few people saw, even though among these are some buried gems.

The afternoon offered a very interesting, if unintentional, comparison between Hollywood and European stars. Both Mena Suvari and Caterina Murino are, TrustMovies believes, what we might call second tier stars. This has nothing to do with their talent but simply what films they’ve appeared in so far and how their career has taken off (or not) because of these. But while, Murino was friendly and very easy-going, treating the whole thing as part of her job and making the most of it, Suvari -- making her entrance late -- made note of the fact that we hadn't waited for her before beginning, and moved and spoke with quite the trace of "diva" about her person. (To her credit, the actress grew more personable and relaxed during the course of the discussion.)

While Ms Suvari was busy with a one-on-one interview, Ms Murino spoke to us at the roundtable about whatever topics we wanted to raise. I asked her about Non pensarci, a film I had seen a couple of years ago at the FSLC's Open Roads, and she told me about its great success in France, even though it was not successful in its home country of Italy. Then our attention turned to Hemingway's Garden of Eden.

Did you like the movie, she asked?  "No."

"Good. I like to know what people think!" she offered, with a smile.

Why did you take this role, asked one blogger? "At first, I didn’t," she tells us. "I read the book before I met with John, our director. There was too much sex too and too much nudity and because I am not very comfortable with my body, I said no. But they came back and finally convinced me.”

Both women talked about how both the role and appearance of women were changing at the time the movie takes place. Each talked about the character they were playing, giving much more information and interest than ever appears in the movie itself. Survari talked of her chararacter as trying to find her identity, while Murino explained her character as seeming to be both a devil who destroys the marriage and an angel who saves the writer.

How close was the final film to the draft of the screenplay you first read? one blogger wanted to know. It turns out, according to the actresses, that the entire African segment was added later. Everyone seem to agree that the book is amazing, and then the conversation turns to the fashions and hair styles in the film, and how they are coming back into into vogue. Ms Suvari talked about cutting her hair so short for the film and the responses she got because of this. One security guard at an airport looked at her passport picture (taken when she had longer hair), and mused, Oh, you were such a pretty girl.... "Well, it's just hair, after all," she tells us, "and cutting it off was so liberating!"

Did you have a lot of rehearsal time? "There was a lot of preparation for the color of the hair, the costumes," Ms Murino explains. "Which helped us understand the period and our characters. And the car we used was like the real car." Ms Suvari then tells of the difficult of learning to drive the Bugatti with a stick shift.

Attention turns to Ms Suvari and her career in films like The Dog Problem and Stuck (which none of our round-table appears to have seen) and Survari says that,  these days, films are either not getting made or, once made, are finding it difficult to get a release. Someone asks Suvari if she is going to be doing anything else with Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under).. "Nothing scheduled as of now, but I would love to do more with him."

What are the ladies working on now? Murino is appearing in the series XIII (for America television) with Stuart Townsend, and working with the BBC on another series, Zen, with Rufus Sewell. Suvari has also  two TV series ready: The Cape and Psych. "TV is wonderful in that regard. Things get seen," Suvari tells us. "But with movies, you never know. Like we put our heart and soul into the one, and that was three years ago, and now, finally here it is coming out. You do the work, and so you want to be acknowledged."

Suvari talks about forging an amazing relationship with director John Irvin. A question comes up about the sex in the film (which is, by almost any standard these days, mild indeed). Suvari talk about her upbringing and and how difficult it was to get used to the Hollywood, male-driven society.  "How they always have to cast the women around the men in the film. Having a script like this one come my way, where the women carry the film, it was wonderful! What has always driven me and taken me down this winding path, is that I always followed my interests. I don't always want to be arm candy in a film."

Murino says that especially now in Italy and in Europe in general, there are still movies made where female roles are equally important to male roles. "I come from an island where the mother -- women -- are more important than men. I am lucky in this, that I have played a lot of roles where this is true."

Did you find Hollywood shocking then? someone asks. Yes, Murino says. "I feel that I am lucky in Europe to have been able to play the roles partucualr in legitimate theater, that I have done -- like the women in Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands in which the woman is so important."

What did you learn from John Irvin? Says Murino, "I was so worried about being able to say my lines in English properly and to be understood, and John taught me how important listening to the other actors can be. How so much of your performance comes from that."

When the PR person call us to attention to say that time is up, Murino invites us to the American premiere of her film Comme les cinq doigts de al main, which is showing that night as part of the In French With English Subtitles festival at FIAF.

No comments: