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Dark reality of Marilyn Monroe comes to Venice

The film with the biggest buzz going into the Venice Film Festival, a dark portrait of Marilyn Monroe starring Cuban actress Ana de Armas, finally gets its world premiere Thursday. “Blonde” is a long-awaited biopic produced by Netflix that promises to delve deep into the childhood trauma and abuse that lay behind the sexualized image of the 20th-century icon. Armas told reporters in Venice that she could feel the presence of Marilyn during the filming, which included shooting in the real homes where Monroe was raised and died. “I truly believe she was very close to us, that she was with us,” Armas said ahead of the premiere later Thursday.

“She was all I thought about, all I dreamed about, all I could talk about, she was with me, and it was beautiful,” she said. The choice of Armas for the lead role has not been without controversy, with online trolls slamming her slight Cuban accent when the trailer was released this summer. But Monroe’s estate, although not involved in the film, has supported her performance, saying Armas “captures Marilyn’s glamour, humanity and vulnerability”.

‘Dark and vulnerable’

There have also been rumors of an extended stand-off between Netflix and Australian director Andrew Dominik over the film’s three-hour running time and graphic scenes. Dominik struggled for 11 years to get the film made, and has credited the MeToo movement with finally generating interest in the story, which takes an unflinching look at the sexual exploitation Monroe suffered in the industry. The project finally “came alive” when he spotted Armas in a small film called “Knock Knock”, he said in Venice.

“I knew it was her as soon as I saw her on TV, it’s a little like love at first sight.” Armas worked for months with a vocal coach, but said she “had to go to places that I knew were going to be uncomfortable and dark and vulnerable” to connect with Monroe. Adrien Brody, who plays husband and playwright Arthur Miller, said he was “transported” by Armas’s performance. “On the first day of filming, I went home with this sense of awe that I had the privilege of actually working with Marilyn Monroe,” he said at the press conference.

Awards race

The 11-day Venice Film Festival draws to a close with its awards night on Saturday. Critics have been divided on many films, but it has been a stellar year for individual performances. There was a huge standing ovation for Brendan Fraser, who makes a comeback from the Hollywood wilderness as a 600-pound (250-kilo) English professor in “The Whale”, sparking talk of Oscar nominations and a “Brendanaissance”.

Cate Blanchett is also an awards frontrunner for her complex role as a classical music conductor in “Tar”, which takes a nuanced look at cancel culture. And Hugh Jackman’s performance as a father dealing with a depressed teenager in “The Son” has been labeled the best of his career.

Several films have tackled sexual identity, with Trace Lysette becoming the first trans actress to star in a competition film in Venice for “Monica”. Other frontrunners for the top award, the Golden Lion, are oddball Irish drama “The Banshees of Inisherin” starring Colin Farrell, and “Argentina 1985”, the true story of the lawyers who prosecuted the military generals accused of the disappearance of tens of thousands of their citizens. – AFP


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