When the president of the country is in attendance you know something special is afoot. Michael D Higgins beamed and you could tell he felt incredibly privileged to present a Volta award to the septuagenarian Al Pacino. The Volta Award acknowledges outstanding people who have made significant contributions to film. It is named after Ireland’s first cinema, the Volta Picture Theatre on Mary Street in Dublin.
Pacino was genuinely chuffed to receive the award and a warm welcome from the people of “the south Bronx”. Before proceedings got under way he gave a few short words by way of an introduction. He summed it up by saying the film was completed, not finished and he hoped we could follow the many layers and jumps. It sounded like a “I know this is a bit of a mess but enjoy” type of speech.
Having seen the trailer and now having heard Al’s speech to say my expectations were low is putting it mildly. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. The film is really a documentary following Pacino as he tries to stage Salome in L.A. whilst making a film of the production and it also is a mini bio on the life of Wilde. The play not being filmed is a read through directed by Estelle Parsons and is to be performed to the “doctors and dentists of L.A.” while over 5 days he aims to film the play which causes most of the conflict in the film as time is so short as he struggles to balance his time between actor and director.
The piece is full of hilarious Pacino moments where he comes across as some Col. Kurtz lost in the jungle, see desert camel scene and “can I get some napkins” moment. Many of the scenes seem orchestrated which isn’t surprising as Pacino isn’t that stupid and can tell what will be good for the film, he pretty much confirmed this in the Q&A afterwards.
The weak points are the self indulgent pontifications by Al sprinkled throughout the film and when Bono, yes Bono, comes on screen to give his two cents it was hilarious to hear a rather audible groan from the audience. U2’s Salome, thankfully rarely heard since it’s release in ’92 playing over the credits is one of the more odd moments.
Jessica Chastain is outstanding and it’s easy to see how she has and will continue to excel towards stardom. This was the first film completed by her and gives us an insight into the tedious nature of getting a film to the screen seeing she has managed to amass about 5 pictures since finishing Salome. She also gives Naomi Watts a run for her money in a certain area, I shall say no more.
The film could have been a rather boring affair if it was just a straight filming of a play which never works. We get instead a haywire portrayal of the complications of staging any piece of work, never mind in three different forms. A thoroughly enjoyable insight in to the mind of a genius. Oh and Oscar Wilde too.
USA / Al Pacino / Al Pacino / Starring: Al Pacino, Jessica Chastain, Kevin Anderson / 95mins / Drama