E.A popular dinner conversation, to which everyone can contribute, is the question “Where were you on 9/11?” The variant that is popular in Venice these days is called “Where did you find out about Princess Diana’s death?”
The author of these lines was sitting in the breakfast room of his hotel at the Venice Film Festival one morning when an accident in a Paris tunnel was reported on a television screen in the background.
Again there are film festivals in the lagoon city, and again Lady Di is present. The film is called “Spencer” and, curiously, it is the festival’s most German contribution, although it only speaks English, it is all about the royal family and neither the director, screenwriter nor any actor has a German passport.
But Sandringham Palace is in the Babelsberg studio, and three quarters of the budget comes from German sources, from various grants and the Berlin accomplice film that “Toni Erdmann” produced.
Kristen Stewart is Diana Spencer. Recently she played an excellent Jean Seberg, an icon we left early, but as Di she is phenomenal.
A good dozen actresses have already tried their hand at Diana, half while she was still alive, the other half after her death. Kristen Stewart is now the definitive princess.
It is decisive and flirtatious, it shines out of itself and, above all, much too bright in a family of rather cloudy cups. She is aware of her power, but would prefer not to exercise it at all, at least not on behalf of this panopticon frozen in tradition.
Part of the star personality of Stewart consists of their distrust of the limelight, of the contradiction of not wanting to be publicly co-opted and still enjoying it in some moments; she doesn’t give any interviews here in Venice. The character and its player, two kindred spirits.
The Lady Diana from “Spencer” is a woman who tries to save herself from the freezing cold of a family with whom she is supposed to spend Christmas. She has been married to Charles for ten years and is gripped by the thought that she has to end this marriage, she just doesn’t know how to go about it.
“Spencer” tells from Diana’s point of view
“Spencer” differs from all previous Diana films in the crucial point that this film is told completely from her point of view, completely from her thinking, it is turned inside out as a projection, so to speak.
Pablo Larain, the Chilean director, has done something like this before, with Jacqueline Kennedy in “Jackie”, who plays in the days immediately after JFK’s death and now looks like a preliminary study for “Spencer”. Natalie Portman was Jackie, and for her too, it was one of her best roles.
Diana can be seen as the probable endpoint of the pop culture fascination that Great Britain exerted on the world in the second half of the 20th century. There is also a documentary in Venice, “Becoming Led Zeppelin”, and it is particularly fascinating to see all the influences that formed the band.
We’re in the swingin ‘sixties, in Manchester, Liverpool and of course London. We see the Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds, and Petula Clark fervently belts out “Downtown”, the hymn to the big city night.
It is not for nothing that “Downtown” is also heard in “Last Night in Soho”, which one could only take for another tribute to the swinging sixties, if the director was not Edgar Wright, and in “Shaun of the Dead” he overrun London with zombies and replace humanity with robots in “The World’s End”.
In fact, it doesn’t take long before Wright deconstructs the relaxed, happy London sixties as the decade of brutal exploitation of young women who followed the call of the pop metropolis and fell into the hands of pimps there.
It’s the ugly, never-told side of Swingin ‘London, and it’s the ghosts of the sixties that haunt the fashion student Eloise in her London booth today. By the way: In “Spencer” Diana is supposed to spend the night in Queen Victoria’s old bedroom, whereupon you slip away the comment that there should still be particles of the old Queen’s skin buzzing around.
In any case, Edgar Wright brings three legends of the sixties back to the screen: Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg, who died shortly after the shoot; Ex-Mrs. Peel can not wish.
Much of what comes across as fresh as a dew in Venice is warmed up. Almost 50 years ago, Ingmar Bergman filmed his “Scenes of a Marriage” with Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, in which the mechanisms of a life-sharing community that is torn apart in everyday life were dissected in relentless detail for the first time in the cinema.
Now we are being served new “scenes” in Venice with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac as a miniseries for the HBO pay station, and here a remake would indeed have been justified, given that the conception of marriage and family has changed tremendously in the half century .
The remake follows the motto “Never change a really good script” in structure, sequence and all essential plot points exactly the Bergman model. We find ourselves back in the middle-class milieu. A top manager and a university lecturer take the place of the lawyer and the scientist.
The Israeli director Hagai Levi turns the roles around, it is no longer the man who confronts his partner with the fact that he wants to run away with a younger one, but the woman who earns the bread for a househusband and little daughter.
The fights that the two fight are fierce by American television standards, and Chastain and Isaac tear and reconcile and injure each other according to all the rules of the art of acting. Nevertheless, you have the certain feeling that you have seen the whole thing more radically 50 years ago.