VENICE (Reuters) - A madcap New York drawing-room comedy that played out like a classic Hollywood farce saw "The Last Picture Show" director Peter Bogdanovich in sharp comedic form at the Venice Film Festival on Friday.
In "She's Funny That Way" Bogdanovich, who in the 1970s was part of the "New Hollywood" wave of pioneering directors, has assembled an all-star cast including Imogen Poots as an aspiring actress who says she is a muse but works as a call girl.
Her liaisons weave a spider's web that nets men, including Owen Wilson, a theater director who has played the rich sugar-daddy "benefactor" to a series of call girls over the years. The people revolving around her character eventually crash into each other, to everyone’s huge embarrassment.
Jennifer Aniston, as a therapist, gives a refresher course in how to portray the woman scorned once she finds out about her lover's hanky-panky partners.
Telling who shows up in cameo roles would be a spoiler, but it is all fairly ingenious, as well as preposterous.
Bogdanovich, 75, said at a press conference that he had been inspired by classic Hollywood films but also by the 19th-century French farce writer Georges Feydeau whose motto, he said, was "whoever must not come into the room must come into the room".
He also said he'd tried to capture the spirit of Hollywood before it was governed by a system that would not settle for less than huge box-office takes on the opening weekend.
"The great days of Hollywood which we remember with (Ernst) Lubitsch and Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks and John Ford and all those great filmmakers, those days are not with us anymore.
"Now it's how do you make $300 million the first weekend. It's rather depressing, I think we're in a period of decadence in America."
The posh New York scene was a world away from American director Ramin Bahrani's "99 Homes", a grim tale about the lives that were destroyed, but also the big money to be made, during the tidal wave of home foreclosures that washed across Florida after the 2008 mortgage-market collapse in the United States.
Bahrani said although his film plays out in an area deliberately chosen for its proximity to Disney World and its "Magic Kingdom" and castles, he felt it had a global message.
"I think it's a very global subject because this type of corruption has become systemic in the world and the thing is the people perpetrating the crime, it's hand in hand with the government, so they pass a law to protect themselves," he said.
The film that, unlike Bogdanovich's is competing for the festival's main award, stars Andrew Garfield as a young construction worker, Dennis Nash, who loses his job - and several weeks' pay - when a homebuilder he works for goes bust.
He loses the home he shares with his mother and his freckle-faced son Connor when he cannot keep up the mortgage payments.
The foreclosure, which sees Nash and his family literally thrown out into the street, is overseen by a financial vulture of a realtor named Rick Carver, played by Michael Shannon ("Boardwalk Empire").
He is the ultimate social Darwinist, or perhaps Ayn Rand follower, who has only scorn for anyone who failed to read the fine print of their mortgage contract or is sentimentally attached to a home.
America is "of the winners, for the winners and by the winners", he says, giving a cynical twist to Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" as he takes the down-and-out Nash under his wing and has him do the dirty work for him.
The Hollywood Reporter trade publication called it "a hard-hitting look at America's economic divide".
Variety had particularly strong praise for Shannon, saying: "like the devil that gets all the best tunes, it’s Shannon — ideally cast in a role that fully capitalizes on his dauntless stare and imposing, almost-handsome physicality — who gets the choice lines here, though his half-snarling, half-purring delivery lends a certain snap even to clunkier ones."
(Michael Roddy is an arts and entertainment correspondent for Reuters, The views expressed are his own.)
Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Crispian Balmer