The 58th Cork Film Festival (9 – 17 November)
Matt Micucci at the 58th Cork Film Festival takes a look at Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction and Becoming Traviata
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (Sophie Huber)
Legendary character actor Harry Dean Stanton sits down in front of a camera, sings a few songs, says a few words and a few friends of his share some memories with him. The result goes far beyond it being an intimate and insightful portrayal of a man who has managed to willingly escape the limelight while retaining the respect as a performer he truly deserved.
It also reveals a side of his we may never have known, such as his down-to-earth personality, his almost self-deprecating humbleness when talking about his memorable past roles, and his heartfelt passion for music. Partly Fiction also comes across as very imaginative and gratifying due to its naturalistic flow and an air of wise and sincere tranquillity. This deeply differentiates it from the countless more conventionally structured biographical documentaries and arguably even makes it more rewarding.
Sophie Huber’s work also enjoys some priceless contributions from big names such as David Lynch, Debbie Harry, Wim Wenders and Kris Kristofferson.
Becoming Traviata (Philippe Béziat)
Becoming Traviata is certainly one of the most riveting and imaginative ways in which documentary has ever presented the creative process of opera productions and the passion and talent of each individual involved in it. Filmmaker Béziat employs a fly-on-the-wall approach in following the preparations of a staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterwork La Traviata at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France.
He particularly focuses on celebrated opera singer Natalie Dessay as she prepares to take on the leading role of Violetta. Her presence is powerful and magnetic, yet it is far from being the conventional representation of the ‘diva’ opera singer. In fact, Becoming Traviata offers a revelation of the world of opera that is far from the snobbery and pretentiousness that it is sometimes identified with. It is rather presented as a disciplined and sometimes demanding yet joyful and exciting expression of artistic freedom and, in this case, the re-interpretation and modernisation of the mise-en-scene of one of the most recognised and praised works in the history of classical music.
Admittedly, the film opens to a riveting crescendo and reaches an enthusiastic height in its beginning that it sometimes struggles to match as it progresses. Nevertheless, the structure of the film that unfolds with and remains faithful to the emotional charge and intensity of the opera work makes it entertaining throughout as we get to follow the parallel physical and emotional developments of both the behind-the-scene machinations and the Italian composer’s original vision. And (is there any need to say it) the music itself is sublime.