The Leisure Seeker and Loving Pablo are both films about relationships that premiered at Venezia 74, with on-screen couples at their centre.
One of the perks of attending the Venice Film Festival is that not much is known about a film before you get to watch it. There are no reviews that might influence your judgement, no spoilers that could ruin the movie for you, sometimes it’s even difficult to find out what it will actually be about. There is something extremely refreshing about entering a screening knowing absolutely nothing about what you’re going to see. But there is also an awful lot of anticipation.
I had high expectations about both The Leisure Seeker and Loving Pablo, as there are certain names that immediately guarantee good quality acting, and their presence alone is enough to guarantee you’re going to enjoy the film. Donald Sutherland and Dame Helen Mirren are two of them. Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz are two more.
Let’s start from Javier and Penélope, one of our favourite real-life couples to watch on screen. After the complex dynamics they showed us in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I was expecting Loving Pablo to display the same fire and passion. Or, at least, a few sparks. Glances that spoke more than words, of two people who are used to being around each other and whose acting also merges with the real affection they feel for one another. Needless to say, this was not the case.
I don’t blame Penélope and Javier for their absence of chemistry in Loving Pablo – in fact, it’s quite the contrary: I blame pretty much everything else. The film explores the romance that sparks between Pablo Escobar (Bardem) and a journalist named Virginia Vallejo (Cruz), and the story is compelling enough, but what prevents it from fully shining is the lack of chemistry between the leads. Bardem and Cruz have very little screen time together, and their characters aren’t fully convincing even on their own. Sadly, this makes the narrative have no rhythm in a story that has been told a million times before.
If Loving Pablo was ruined by poor characterisation, the same cannot be said of The Leisure Seeker (Ella & John), whose captivating narration and excellent script match the incredible talent of its cast.
Taken from the novel by Michael Zadoorian with the same name, The Leisure Seeker is the story of the Spencers, an elderly couple with physical and mental health issues, embarking on a road-trip through America on board of their RV – “The Leisure Seeker” – in order to escape being put in a home for medical care, and spend the rest of their time together. The film has been adapted for the screen with the perfect mix of sentimentality and humour, intertwining moments for serious reflection with lough-oud-loud sequences and unexpected turns. The result is a bold, convincing story of courage and resilience that is all but predictable, and moves and entertains exactly in the right measure and right up till the very end.
Needless to say, Donald Sutherland and Dame Helen Mirren are outstanding. Their seemlessly effortless portrayal of Ella and John Spencer makes it look as if they had been inhabiting these characters’ bodies and minds all their lives. Their incredible presence on and off screen was perceived by the audience at Venice, and the heartfelt, well-deserved standing ovation that followed the screening lasted for over 10 minutes.