• [The Daily] Venice 2017: Batra’s Our Souls at Night

    By David Hudson

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    Let’s start with the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin: “‘We all have history,’ shrugs Addie Moore, a widow living in small-town Colorado, when a friend advises that her new beau—a twinklingly handsome widower from a few doors down the street, called Louis Waters—has a rascally past. And in Addie and Louis’s case, the observation has a neat double resonance: the pair are played by Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, whose three-film partnership in the Sixties and Seventies, across The Chase [1966], Barefoot in the Park [1967], and The Electric Horseman [1979], set them apart as one of the most indecently gorgeous screen couples the movies ever produced.”

    “Adapted from the Kent Haruf novel, Our Souls at Night is your classic Hollywood weepie, so immaculately played that it confounds crass preconceptions,” writes the Guardian’s Xan Brooks. “It arrived in Venice saddled with a premise that could hardly sound more cloying . . . Out of the blue, without preamble, Addie asks Louis if he wouldn’t mind coming over to sleep with her. Not for the sex, just for the company, because she is lonely and the nights are the worst. It’s a terrific opening gambit and Fonda plays it with aplomb. Her appeal is so nakedly sincere that something catches in your chest.”

    “Boasting the kind of star wattage that can’t be hidden under all the bushels of Wal-Mart sleepwear and mom jeans that the film can muster, Fonda and Redford prove, five decades after Barefoot in the Park, that they can still generate onscreen sparks,” writes Alonso Duralde at TheWrap. “We don’t get nearly enough movies about the love lives, let alone the sex lives, of people over the age of sixty, and while Our Souls at Night never achieves the dramatic depths of, say, Hope Springs, it’s lovely and moving in a decidedly understated way.”

    Our Souls at Night is maybe one-third of a good movie,” finds Glenn Kenny at RogerEbert.com. “The stars are the stars, and the premise is not bad even if it leads down some predictable roads. ‘It’s the kind of movie that makes you really miss Leo McCarey,’ I said to a fellow critic later that day. ‘Glenn, you’re such a classicist,’ he responded. ‘No, I just like good directors,’ I said. The director here, Ritesh Batra, has a tendency to invest almost every shot with about 16-tons worth of portent, smothering the humanism that Redford and Fonda are working hard to put across.”

    “Netflix will be releasing Our Souls at Night to its global platform on September 29, mere weeks after its glittery Venice Film Festival premiere,” notes Variety’s Guy Lodge. “While there’s been much to-do recently over the streaming giant’s spurning of theatrical release models, it’s hard to deny that the small screen may be the most natural fit for Batra’s film, given its pleasantly mollified storytelling and blandly unassuming visual style. . . . There is a certain irony, however, in the web distributing a film in which the characters themselves take a decidedly circumspect attitude to new technology—at least, until smartphones bring the old dogs closer to the possibilities of the late-night ‘u up?’ text.”

    “Everything, in the end, seems to revolve around that casting coup,” writes Screen’s Lee Marshall. “Like the pairing of Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond, this is a career celebration as much as a drama, one that’s given extra relevance, and poignancy, by Redford’s recent announcement that he is giving up acting to focus on direction.”

    “When asked at the press conference why he didn’t direct this film (Redford bought the rights to adapt the book and produced it), he pointed out that he wanted to give the opportunity to a young director, Ritesh Batra, whose debut film The Lunchbox became a success at Sundance,” notes Upcoming editor Filippo L’Astorina. “With a relaxing, heartwarming pace and music reminiscent of Nebraska, it just feels right to see Bruce Dern in a cameo role as a coffee friend of Redford.”

    “D.P. Stephen Goldblatt’s warm lighting favors the stars, highlighting their hair, erasing lines, and creating a safe, cozy atmosphere for their feelings to grow and bloom,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Deborah Young. “Jane Ann Stewart’s production design is beautifully expressive of small town America, while Elliot Goldenthal’s score is laid back and ultimately consoling.”

    Update, 9/10: For Variety, Shalini Dore’s asked Batra what’s next. “I am working on Photographer in Bombay, that I wrote and I’m directing later this year. We’re not casting yet. But I’m writing with the team from Lunchbox. It will be in English and Hindi.”

    Updates, 9/27: Our Souls at Night is “too cautious and cozy to be a great movie, or even a very interesting one,” writes A. O. Scott in the New York Times. “Luckily, the stars have humanity to spare, and very little left to prove. With her careful diction and a bearing that conveys starchiness and sensuality in perfect, improbable balance, Ms. Fonda turns middle-class maturity into a bewitching form of charisma. . . . Mr. Redford, who barely uttered a word in All Is Lost, at first seems prepared to match that feat here, interrupting what seem like monthlong pauses to mutter, sigh and occasionally deliver a complete sentence. He is one of the great minimalists of American cinema, an actor who can dazzle you by opening the tiniest window onto a character’s inner life.”

    IndieWire’s David Ehrlich suggests that “regardless of how old you are, this is the kind of movie that your parents would like. . . . Our Souls at Night is a small film, and it’s often such a placid one that it feels like it’s standing in place. Batra is a competent director, but he frames every boring shot of this story with the plainness of someone who knew that it [would] almost exclusively be screened on iPhones.”

    Updates, 9/30: “It’s fifty years, no less, since Fonda and Redford’s fine romance in Barefoot in the Park,” notes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker, “and, if they remain a perfect couple, it’s because they are so imperfectly matched: her forthrightness and her mental brio versus his more hesitant air. It’s as if he were turned in upon himself and wary of intruders. As actors of undiminished allure, they deserve the best, and Our Souls at Night left me with an austere fantasy. If only Michael Haneke, say, had got hold of the screenplay; if only he had shorn it of its folksiness, its relaxing guitar score, and its subplot about Addie’s grumpy grandson (Iain Armitage), whom Louis persuades to lay down his iPhone in favor of toy trains and fishing. What a film we might have had—a rural American sequel to Haneke’s unstinting Amour (2012).”

    “The last act of Our Souls at Night is rushed and the ending truncated,” writes David Edelstein at Vulture. “But the good vibes linger. Netflix is putting the film in a few theaters but it’s online now to watch. You should. It’s a nice little movie.”

    Stephen Saito talks with Batra “about how he approached working with two of the most brightest of stars in all respects, adapting a favorite novelist in the late Haruf, and returning to India for his next film after capturing England and America so precisely in his last two.”

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