Sunday, January 20, 2008

Review – Venus

January 19, 2008

Venus – Great Britain, 2006

Venus takes place in a community of people for whom the specter of death is a constant presence. They speak about it casually and laugh, if only to make it seem more distant. Between the daily regiment of pills and their constant discourse on such subjects as the length of their future obituaries, they help each other enjoy their last years with dignity and companionship. Yet in a way they do so forlorn.

Into this world steps Jessie, a young woman with no patience for the stories and necessities of her elderly uncle, Ian. While he had filled his head with visions of a niece who would be interested in classical literature, as well as one who would be wiling to tend to his every need at the ring of a bell, Jessie, it turns out, is more interested in lounging around his apartment moping. When Ian's friend Maurice (Peter O'Toole, in what some have called the performance of his career) arrives to visit his friend and meet his niece, he is told, “It's only been 24 hours, and already I'm screaming for euthanasia.” Maurice graciously agrees to take Jessie out. Soon the two of them find themselves in an odd, sometimes beautiful, sometimes creepy relationship.

Just what their interest is in each other is hard to pinpoint. Maurice quotes Shakespeare and enjoys theatre; to Jessie, Shakespeare sound likes a foreign language, and her idea of theatre is The Lion King. Maurice is amused by Jessie's inexperience; Jessie approaches Maurice with a cold demeanor that borders on indifference. However, he has money, and she has the stuff that makes old men wish they were young again. And so they make a discomforting pair. He buys her expensive dresses and earrings; she lets him kiss her on the neck three times.

However, Venus is about much more than simply the story of a dirty old man pursuing a much younger woman. In facts, Maurice could not consummate the relationship even if Jessie agreed to. Rather Venus moves in an uncharted direction. As a friendship grows, so too does the awkwardness. For every deep conversation they have, there is an unsettling one later, sometimes in the same scene, and I found myself questioning both of their motives. Why does she still talk to him? Why does he allow her to treat him in this way? How can this relationship be good for either one of them?

Towards the middle of Venus, Maurice makes this startling revelation. “I am about to die, and I know nothing about myself.” Suddenly all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Venus has the power to stay with you a while after you watch it. In an incredible scene, Maurice makes arrangements to meet Jessie the following day. She is going to an all-night party, a party that he tries to instruct her when to come home from, in the process sounding like both a jealous boyfriend and a controlling father. Maurice waits hours, but Jessie remains absent. Maurice then goes to see his ex-wife, a woman whom he long ago abandoned emotionally but has maintained an interesting relationship with. On this occasion, he apologizes to her for being the man that he is, for abandoning her and their children. Then he kisses her. Perhaps he is truly sorry, but it's more likely he's lonely and up to his old tricks. (on DVD)

3 stars

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