After an unsuitably lavish breakfast, I catch a Mall of the Emirates-bound shuttle by the skin of my teeth and scuttle through the Mall --which looks just like a mall, only bigger, to paraphrase the well-known joke of what the unimpressed woman said to the flasher – arriving at the theater screening “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” in 3-D, just before it starts.
I’m underwhelmed. After Werner Herzog’s amazing 3-D “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” exploring the 20,000-year-old paintings in the Chauvet caves of southern France, and Wim Wenders’ glorious 3-D “Pina,” featuring the dances of Pina Bausch, it seemed that 3-D had claimed its place as a valid art form. The presence of James Cameron as an executive producer of “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away,” also seemed to indicate seriousness.
The film consists of acts from various Cirque productions, some of which I’ve seen in the flesh in Las Vegas and on tour, stitched together with a slender story of a young woman searching through a dreamlike underworld for an aerialist. Oddly the immersive properties of 3-D, as well as the projectile possibilities (which led to 50s 3-D movies being stigmatized as “asagai” or spear movies), seem minimized and underused – I was surprised when the occasional jellyfish costume or water seems to reach towards the audience. One entire sequence, in which warriors fight a battle on a vertiginously-inclined platform while dangling on ropes, is filmed in such a way that the essential anti-gravity trick is largely obscured.
On the shuttle ride back, I chat with a wordly young film critic for “Pravda,” Stas Tyrkin, who seems to spend more time out of Moscow at international film festivals than in it – especially now, when it’s winter there and summer here. He’s going to hit the beach.
After lunch at the Wharf’s dazzling buffet, where I dig into the roast chicken, couscous with vegetables, fish pie, and miniature pistachio éclairs, I see “Me and You,” the Bertolucci film, at the Madinat Theatre, which has become, after two days (!), my favorite venue: it’s got a great screen, the auditorium is properly raked, and the Moorish décor is just swell. I don’t catch the name of the affable presenter, who introduces the boyish young star, Jacopo Olmo Antinori, who wins my heart by saying that anything he did as an actor before “Me and You” was “just a joke,” that he learned to act from Bertolucci, and that he thinks the movie is “just a beautiful thing – and not just because I’m in it.” I’m shocked when the presenter reminds us to vote for the movie afterwards, from one to five – and he’s sure we’ll want to give it a five! The man sits down in front of me and I lean forward and tell him he’s succeeded in shocking me.
What shocks me even more is that I completely love the movie. It debuted at Cannes, I missed seeing it in Toronto, and it seems to have dropped off the radar entirely – if “Vogue” had a column called “People Aren’t Talking About,” “Me and You” would be a candidate. And yet it seems to me to be a small masterpiece, compelling in story, setting, acting – I’m reminded of “Les Enfants Terribles,” both novel and film, and that’s a good thing. Afterwards Antinori, now 15, who was 14 – the same age as the protagonist – when he did the film, speaks movingly of working with Bertolucci: “On his set there is a strange energy – everything is different – that’s art!...He wanted everything you could give. Lots of takes – sometimes 20 or 25, sometimes 5 or 3, it depends, (but) he wanted 2 or 3 good takes in every scene…he used 2 cameras, sometimes both at once.” I am also impressed with the work of the beautiful young actress Tea Falco (the photographs she’s supposed to have taken wittily and sadly seem to reference the work of the late Francesca Woodman), and Sonia Bergamasco, playing the mother. Even the eery cellar storeroom set is beguiling.