Venice Film Festival: All about rape and murder, and Frances McDormand playing a sleuth once again
Gautam Bhaskaran dissects two criminal thrillers that premiered at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, on the island of Lido
A still from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Many years ago in 1996, we saw Frances McDormand, heavily pregnant, playing a cop with all the cunning in the world, tracking down a car salesman after he had murdered his wife for insurance money. I think Sujoy Ghosh modeled Vidya Balan on the American actress in his 2012 Kahani, where also we see the Indian star pregnant and trying to crack a mystery. Of course, she had no baby in her womb as we find out at the very end.
Cut to the 2017 Venice Film Festival, and McDormand returns – this time not carrying a child – as a common citizen tackling a personal tragedy in a small American town in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (helmed by Martin McDonagh). When the police fail to make any arrests seven months after her young daughter had been raped and murdered, McDormand's Mildred takes over by buying ad space on three billboards outside the town of Ebbing to make a statement on Easter Sunday: Her daughter was ‘raped while dying, and still no arrests Sheriff Willoughby?’, they ask consecutively.
A unique way of addressing police apathy, I would think , which in the movie leads to television channels picking up the story and to a whole lot of unsavoury incidents. A film that gripped me with its pace and novelty. And yes, McDormand was just delightful, foul-mouthed and funny, to watch as a mother grieving over her daughter's death, but not giving up to get to the bottom of it all.
Also, I liked the way the work ended. It was sort of open, but not in a way that would lead to a sequel. We see Mildred and an ex-police officer drive away on yet another lead.
Another thriller, this time from Japan, The Third Murder, from the cult director, Hirokazu Kore-eda, who returned to the Lido (the island where the Festival takes place every autumn) 22 years after his debut feature, Maboroshi no Hikari played in competition.
The movie talks about an ageing convict, essayed by Koji Yakusho, who is facing his third murder charge and the gallows in a nation which is very secretive about the number of people it executes, but which is reportedly quite high. But the defendant, who confesses to the police about the killing, turns out to be a man of many contradictions.
The Third Murder in more than one sense lambasted the Japanese justice system where the rate of conviction is a high 99 per cent and where forced confessions have often led to the wrong people being sent to jail, or worse. Kore-eda made an interesting observation during an interview: “In Japan there is almost no plea bargaining and a lot people outside the justice system want to think that a courtroom and a trial are venues for revealing the truth. But from the people actually involved, especially the lawyers, I came to realize that that’s not actually the case. I thought that was interesting”
The Third Murder may be too verbose and long, but was also very gripping. Wish I knew Japanese, for reading the subtitles in a such wordy work that took the pleasure out of viewing. Really!
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic who is covering the Venice Film Festival)
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