A debate on whether a man in a suit generates appeal might last a minute or two. The same debate on a man in an Italian suit would be over before I...
Shot on a low budget, mostly in and around Levinson’s own Connecticut home, The Humbling successfully premiered in Venice, opened the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival (Tiff) with a big bang. The Tiff , now in its 39th year, is recognized internationally, along with Cannes and Venice, as one of the top three film festivals in the world.
The film is a loose and invigorating adaptation of Philip Roth’s thirtieth novel. It is a wild tragi-comedy starring Al Pacino as Simon Axler, a washed-up stage actor, who after a bad fall (into the orchestra pit), enters a state of intense depression in a rehab institute. Upon his release, he continues therapy in his mansion in Connecticut and decides to give up acting, thinking he has lost his “craft”.
Simon however, is always acting- it is in his DNA- and always rating his performance on the stage of everyday life. When he starts a love affair with Pegeen, a much younger woman (played by wonderful Greta Gerwig), whom he had not seen since she was ten, he is back into appreciating life with all its risks and contradictions. Pegeen is extremely good at getting what she wants, like a teaching job which she secured by sleeping with the dean (Kyra Sedgwick).
Though openly lesbian, Pegeen seduces Simon without the slightest hesitation and moves in, much to the chagrin of the love-sick dean and her own ex-girlfriend Priscilla, who after a sex-change operation is now known as Prince. At this point the film becomes a very bizarre potpourri which partly reminds the audience of a Woody Allen sex comedy, but all the same is kept together and well unified by Al Pacino’s superb interpretation. Roles become progressively more blurred and Simon seems at times to lose track of who is who in the play of life.
One of the main themes of the film is the impossibility of separating art from life because acting means to live always in a space between reality and fiction. The film begins and ends on stage. It opens with a confused Simon putting on his make-up for a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Lost in his lines, his imagination plays tricks as he tries variations on the words and, ultimately, once in front of the audience, he loses the plot altogether. It closes with Simon returning to acting in the superb role of King Lear, except that he boldly reinvents the end of the Shakespearian drama by deciding to commit suicide on stage.
Al Pacino emerges as the perfect charismatic hero (or anti-hero) in this unique interpretation. He is a great example of a self-made man. He was born in East Harlem of a very poor Sicilian immigrant family and, while in his teens, was nicknamed “the actor” because he started acting in basement plays in New York’s theatrical underground. He dropped out of school at 17 and worked as a messenger, janitor and postal clerk, sleeping sometimes in the streets. His talent and strong determination allowed him however to emerge the way he deserved. After having received Best Actor nominations for The Godfather Part II and Serpico, he won an Oscar for best actor for his performance in The Scent of a Woman. Since then, he has received the highest international recognition as a stage and film actor, as well as a director.
Nevertheless, one of his strongest performances in years was in Manglehorn, a film by American director David Gordon Green, which was also presented at Tiff. Pacino plays the part of a hard working storefront philosopher who owns a lock-and-key business. In spite of the fact that he has been married and divorced and has a grown up son, he is consumed by memories of a great love he let slip through his fingers. Seeing life through the lens of his experience and surreal day-dreams, the audience is captivated by Pacino’s superb and compelling interpretation.
USA 2014-09-08 English
North American Premiere
110 minutes /colour
Director :Barry Levinson
Producers:Barry Levinson and Jason Sosnoff
Screenplay: Buck Henry, Michael Zebede, based on the novel by Philip Roth
Music: Marcello Zarvos
Main cast: Al Pacino, Greta Gerwig, Nina Arianda, Dianne Wiest.