Controversial Polish-French director Roman Polanski’s latest effort, Carnage, drew applause Thursday when it screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival on a day which also saw popstar Madonna mobbed by fans as she presented her new film W.E.
Almost entirely set in a Brooklyn apartment, Carnage, an adaption of French playwright Yasmina Reza’s theatre piece of the same name, revolves around two couples who who meet to discuss a playground fight between their sons.
The initially polite encounter, soon descends into a series of raucous, verbal sparring matches where, in an increasingly farcical context, loyalties shift along marital, gender and class lines,
The film’s star-studded cast features Academy Award winners Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and Christopher Waltz.
A renowned master of suspense whose films include Chinatown and more recently, The Ghostwriter, Polanski was absent from the Italian lagoon city.
The 78-year-old director is wanted in the US on charges of unlawful sex with a minor, in a case that goes back three decades. In 2009-10 he was detained by Swiss authorities for more than six months, but later freed when a US extradition request was rejected.
In contrast, to the enthusiasm generated by Carnage, Madonna’s second stab at filmmaking W.E triggered some tepid clapping during a morning press screening.
But the so-called Queen of Pop held court during a post-screening news conference where she explained how she drew on her ‘strong spiritual foundation,’ to find time to work on the film project, including the writing the screenplay – a process that took three years.
W.E. is a drama that juxtaposes the relationship between US divorcee Wallis Simpson, and Britain’s King Edward VIII – a liaison that led to his abdication in 1936 – with the life of a modern-day affluent Manhattan housewife who develops an obsession for her namesake, Wallis.
‘If I could have cloned myself I would have done the score myself,’ she said explaining why she did not compose the music for the film.
‘I see myself as a storyteller … I don’t think it is a great jump from songwriting to filmmaking,’ the 53-year-old Madonna said.
Festival organizers threatened to cancel the press conference unless people stopped taking pictures of Madonna, who during the event also spoke a few words in Italian, the language of her ancestors.
Telegraph 3 out of 5 stars
A film directed by Madonna that deals in part with the love affair between King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson? A curious notion, and not truly an enticing one. Yet W.E. is rather better than expected; it’s bold, confident and not without amusing moments.
Still, it’s undeniably a strange concoction. Madonna (who also co-scripted with Alex Keshishian) has fashioned a split-level story of two couples: the Windsors, and the growing attraction between Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), a contemporary Manhattan woman, and Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), a handsome Russian working security at Sotheby’s.
Wally, married to an eminent shrink who isn’t above slapping her around, desperately wants children. (He doesn’t.) Worse, she has inherited her mother’s and grandmother’s obsession with the Windsors (Andrea Riseborough, James d’Arcy) and doggedly researches their lives, seeking clues about how to live her own. In extreme moments, Mrs. Simpson actually appears to her.
W.E. skips around in time, tracing the Windsors’ budding romance, the scandal and abdication. Meanwhile Wally’s affair with Evgeni blossoms. Who is he, she asks a girl-friend? Turns out he’s a Russian intellectual slumming as a security guard. They’re a dime a dozen, apparently.
Madonna presents these intertwined stories with the emotional level cranked up to 11. Abel Korzoniowski’s crashingly loud music thrums repetitively like fevered heartbeats before yielding to a heartbreaking violin figure. Our director’s familiarity with pop videos is evident from her focussing on arresting images: a teardrop in close-up, welling from an unblinking eye.
It all looks good, or at least glossy, in the manner of high-end cosmetics commercials. Exotic locations (Portofino, Cap d’Antibes) are visited and luxury brand names (Moet, Cartier, Schiaparelli) tossed around. Wally pays repeatedly visits an auction of the Windsors’ possessions; W.E. often feels like an extended infomercial for Sotheby’s New York.
Occasional flashes of wit intrude. “Your Majesty, you know your way to a woman’s heart,” Wallis says. “I wasn’t aiming that high,” he replies. But such moments are rare.
Yet Riseborough and Cornish acquit themselves well, and W.E. may appeal to younger women with an eye for fashion. One suspects Madonna views the Windsors primarily as style icons; her version of their lives is a fantasia that will not trouble historians. Yet oddly, that’s a relief after so many stale, plodding TV documentaries about this unlovely couple.
Guardian 1 out of 5 stars
Madonna’s jaw-dropping take on the story of Wallis Simpson is a primped and simpering folly, preening and fatally mishandled
Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson – marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternising with Nazis – it’s doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in W.E., Madonna’s jaw-dropping take on “the 20th-century’s greatest royal love story”. The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel.
Or could it be that Madonna is in deadly earnest here? If so, her film is more risible than we had any right to expect; a primped and simpering folly, the turkey that dreamed it was a peacock. Andrea Riseborough stars as Wallis, the perky American social climber who meets Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) in London, where she is drawn like a magnet to his pursed lips and peevish air. Yet Madonna has also taken the decision to run Wallis’s story in tandem with the story of Wally (Abbie Cornish), a trophy wife in 1990s New York, who totters in and out of the drama like a doped pony. Wally, it transpires, was named after Wallis and is obsessed by the woman to a degree that struck me as deeply worrying, but which Madonna presents as evidence of impeccable good taste. From time to time, the ghost of Wallis even pays Wally a call to dispense beauty tips or comfort her when she’s lying injured on the bathroom floor. “I’m here,” coos Wallis. “I’ll always be here.” And seldom has a promise sounded more like a threat.
Madonna wants us to see these two as spiritual twins, in that they are both dazzled by expensive trinkets and searching desperately for love. We know instantly that Wallis’s first husband is a wrong ‘un because he drags her from the bath and beats her, and we are invited to take a similar view of Wally’s spouse when he starts claiming that Wallis and Edward were Nazi-sympathisers, which is patently absurd. “They might have been naive,” Wally scolds him. “That doesn’t mean that they were Nazis.”
What an extraordinarily silly, preening, fatally mishandled film this is. It may even surpass 2008’s Filth and Wisdom, Madonna’s calamitous first outing as a film-maker. Her direction is so all over the shop that it barely qualifies as direction at all. W.E. gives us slo-mo and jump cuts and a crawling crane shot up a tree in Balmoral, but they are all just tricks without a purpose. For her big directoral flourish, Madonna has Wallis bound on stage to dance with a Masai tribesman while Pretty Vacant blares on the soundtrack. But why? What point is she making? That social-climbing Wallis-Simpson was the world’s first punk-rocker? That – see! – a genuine Nazi-sympathiser would never dream of dancing with an African? Who can say? My guess is that she could have had Wallis dressed as a clown, bungee jumping off the Eiffel Tower to the strains of The Birdy Song and it would have served her story just as well.
WhatCulture 3 out of 5
Madonna? Oh, wait yes, Madonna made this move. That was actually my prevailing thought at the end of W.E. which played this afternoon at the Venice Film Festival, a well acted two-tiered romantic drama that marks her second feature after the notorious 2008 movie Filth and Wisdom. And it’s a credit to the former pop sensation that I was able to forget the major elephant in the room that was the woman behind the camera and enjoy almost every minute of the it. Yes, I say almost as the third act is a painful sequence of events that show she didn’t really know how to finish her story and I wouldn’t be surprised if a re-cutting or even re-shoots are ordered before the film gets a theatrical release in the U.S. this December.
W.E. magically intertwines present and past & reality and fiction as a 90′s New York trophy wife Wallie Winthrop (played by a charming and loving Abbie Cornish), compares herself and her own love story reflected in the unlikely romance that King Edward VIII and American socialite Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) shared when they fell for each other in the mid 20th Century. Wallie is rather obsessed with Wallis, with whom she was named after and shares something of a spiritual relationship with.
As you know from history (or those old enough to remember it!), a few months into his stint as the King of England in 1936, Edward abdicated the throne, turned his back on the British monarchy and caused a constitutional crisis when he proposed to marry an American who had already been married twice (and indeed was still married to her second husband with whom she was in the process of divorcing) and would eventually have to live out the rest of his life in France.
Last year we saw the Oscar winning The King’s Speech that also depicted this historical moment but did so from another perspective. This time Madonna shows us the love and romance of David, King Edward VIII, played by James D’Arcy, showing us what is dubbed as “the 20th-century’s greatest royal love story”.
Both women are going through tumultuous changes in their love life: they need their husband’s love, their protection but cannot have it. Yet they keep forgiving them, allowing the men in their life to wrong them over and over again until the moment they see what true love really is. That’s all it really is about, a search for love, a quest for the right thing to do, the right person to fight for, the courage of being left alone, but knowing you are fighting for something more important than what other people think of you: your own liberty.
The film feels a little long and that is a problem for a movie that runs only for two hours. Other than that it was very interesting to watch. Visually stunning, with great set decorations and costume design that brought back to life the splendor of those years, Madonna seems at ease in both worlds, the past of the old aristocratic England and the present, set in a New York that only serves as a set and doesn’t really take part in the story.
The story is supported by an amazing soundtrack that is an integral part of the film and melts together with the story and allows us a journey filled with emotions while we watch the events unfold. It also keeps you focused during those moments where all you can think of is: ok, we’ve seen this, can we move on to the next scene?
One last thing needs to be said, Madonna’s direction has nothing to envy to other famous directors and if you thought that she was only able to sing, think again. She can definitely do better, but I am quite sure she will.
Hop-scotching between glamorous locations, as well as between decades and story strands, with the frequency of its director on a tour, W.E. is as easy on the eyes and ears as it is embalmed from any dramatic point of view. Madonna’s second outing as a feature director centers upon an assortment of politely anguished but extremely well-dressed inhabitants of impossibly privileged worlds, two of whom are the fated W. (Wallis) and E. (Edward), stars of Britain’s 1930s royal melodrama. Given the several key characters the films have in common, The Weinstein Company can only hope that a bit of The King’s Speech interest spills over onto this one, which lacks any compelling selling points of its own, including that of the director herself, who has never sold many cinema tickets. Following its premieres at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, this odd, idiosyncratic piece is due for U.S. release Dec. 9.
Clearly conveying their view that the rarified realms of the rich and famous represent their own sorts of prisons, Madonna and her Truth or Dare collaborator Alek Keshishian have cooked up low-temperature scenario about a contemporary woman’s obsession for exploring a link between herself and Wallis Simpson, the divorced wife of an American soldier for whom the heir to the British throne took the unprecedented step of abdicating rather than giving up “the woman I love.”
But no matter how beguiling the eye candy provided by a stunningly black-haired Abbie Cornish as Wally Winthrop, a woman for whom exploring her celebrity connection is a full-time job, the film most closely resembles a sumptuous documentary about a young beauty on an exclusive shopping expedition; Wally hangs around Sotheby’s in New York and takes side trips to Paris and London to see Mohamed Al-Fayed in between bouts of abuse from her bestial husband and furtive rendezvous with a young Russian security guard (Oscar Isaac).
Rather more flavorful is the story of Wallis, played with distinction and an almost poignant sense of resignation by Andrea Riseborough. First glimpsed in Shanghai in 1924 before entering London society in 1931, she is slowly pried from the hold of her burly military husband into the gangly but nonetheless tenacious grasp of Prince Edward (or David, as he was called by intimates). Surprisingly for the truth or dare adherent, Madonna is bashfully silent on the rumored intimate reasons why the king-in-waiting could not bear to lose this ordinary-looking woman.
Rather, looking at the dilemma more from female side, the filmmaker reveals a dynamic in which Wallis, her intimacy with Edward slowly morphing into unwanted isolation, soon becomes a pawn (never to be a queen) on the royal chessboard, virtually helpless to resist being moved about by forces far more powerful than she. This feeling of inevitability, backed up by snippets of Wallis’ own letters registering feelings of being trapped, and her and Edward’s eventual sorry fate as “the world’s most celebrated parasites,” is the one aspect of the story that rings true on a human level and is appealing and almost touching for that.
The rest, unfortunately, feels artificial, programmed, rote. Especially dreary is the slow-burning affair between Wally and Evgeni, the security guard, who just don’t seem meant for each other on any level. Keen to acquire an artifact of Wallis’ at an upcoming auction of items from the Windsor estate, Wally has nothing but time to pursue her obsessions. But for the audience, Wally, despite Cornish’s gentle and warm presence, offers very little in terms of personal interest or as a key into the world of one of the last century’s most discussed couples.
Enamored of surface appearances, the director and cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski make everything look good in an expensive music video sort of way and locations such as the Cote d’Azur , Portofino and assorted royal residences do nothing to detract from the air of wall-to-wall luxury. Musical touches are occasionally striking, while the score proper has a Philip Glass-like sound.
One imaginative casting coup has veteran James Fox playing the aging King George V, with Fox’s son Laurence in as a Bertie rather less physically prepossessing than that of Colin Firth.
Madonna’s second foray into directing is pleasing to the eyes and ears, but lacking anything for the soul.
*to be updated*
Madonna with her film crew at the Venice Film Festival Press Conference for W.E. (September 01 2011)