The Films of Henry Jaglom: Venice/Venice

“In life, the borderline between fiction and reality is blurred.”

Henry Jaglom’s Venice/Venice opens, as many of his films often do, with several diverse women talking straight into the camera. They speak candidly about the movies, the great love stories of cinema, and how many of those films shaped their perceptions of reality. Within each of these women is a unique story, each story coming from a place of purity and truth.

The perfect Jaglom opening to a perfect Jaglom film.

Almost immediately, we are transported to Venice, Italy. The sunlight sparkles on the water as a gorgeous piece of classical music plays over the opening credits. We see the city in all of its glory, before we arrive at a bistro where independent filmmaker, Dean (Henry Jaglom), is being interviewed by several members of the press about his most recent film, which is playing at a festival in the area. He talks of his “anti-establishment” stance as and artist, as well as his unorthodox creative process.

All the while, a young journalist watches him in amazement. She is a fan of his films. One could say that perhaps she lives vicariously through his films. Her name is Jeanne (played by the lovely Nelly Alard) and she jumps at the first opportunity to sit down with him. The conversations that they share together are insightful and philosophical, and at times, confrontational – but they are undeniably fascinating. As they venture through Italy, Jeanne reveals to Dean that she has built up this idea of him in her head based upon what she sees in his films. She is attracted to the realism of his work, the deliberate lack of Hollywood sparkle. There are times when Jeanne simply observes Dean from afar as he interacts with other people, almost as if she is watching one of his movies. Still, it seems to bother her when she sees Dean surrounded with thousands of cameras and reporters. The technicalities of the festival experience kill the illusion. And yet, it can’t be denied that these two individuals share something special, almost magical.

Later on, when Jeanne flies to Venice, California to meet Dean at his home, she will discover that reality and illusion often collide in the most unexpected and beautiful ways.

Venice/Venice is a delight from beginning to end. It ranks highly among his most personal projects, including Someone to Love and Always…But Not Forever. It perfectly captures the joy of the cinema and how each film is alive in its own way. The act of creating reality in film is thoroughly explored in ways that seem fresh and alive. It is an existential character study that could possibly renew your love of film.

The “interview” segments of Venice/Venice are revealing, heartbreaking, and bittersweet. One of Jaglom’s strengths has always been the way in which he represents the souls of the women onscreen. This is a directorial trademark that makes the film all the more captivating.

There are many self-referential moments within the film that Jaglom fans will notice. Jaglom puts some of his most vocal critics on the spot, and perfectly counters the argument that his films are “self-absorbed” and “narcissistic”. These critics have never understood all of the meticulous craft and raw emotion that go into Jaglom’s films, and this is a real tragedy. They are missing out on something extraordinary. Venice/Venice conveys the ways in which film and life are completely opposite to one another and yet so alike, and that is something to celebrate.

I’ve said before that watching a Jaglom film is often like revisiting old friends, and you’ll see plenty of familiar faces here, including David Duchovny, Melissa Leo, Daphna Kastner, Zack Norman, and Lisa Blake Richards. There is even a cameo from director John Landis!

If you have never experienced Venice/Venice before, you must do so as soon as possible. You will never forget it. This is the kind of film that will stay with you forever.

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