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Venice Film Festival: Schrader toys with writing female Taxi Driver; Brendan Fraser learns to move

BRENDAN FRASER in a scene from The Whale.

VENICE —  Celebrated US filmmaker Paul Schrader is known for writing strong male leads, but at the age of 76, he has decided to head into uncharted territory and produce a screenplay with a female protagonist.

Mr. Schrader, who wrote or co-wrote four Martin Scorsese films, including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, has also directed more than 20 movies and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Venice Film Festival this weekend.

Speaking to Reuters after picking up the prize, Mr. Schrader said he had achieved everything he had set out to do in cinema, but still thought he had more work left in him.

“I’m sitting here thinking, what if (Taxi Driver protagonist) Travis Bickle wore a skirt?” he said. “I know every writer is always told to write what you know. And I’ve written what I know now. Maybe I should write what I don’t know. You know, maybe I should write about a woman.”

He revealed that he had actually just finished a script that centered on a female trauma nurse, but acknowledged it was a difficult process and said he may not direct the project by himself. “I’m even tempted to seek … a co-director just because it’s such a female piece. And I don’t know whether I might be better served with a female co-director,” he added, without giving any further details of the project.

His latest film Master Gardener premiered at the festival on Saturday — the third in a loose trilogy centered on the idea of a “lonely man in a room.”

The movie stars Joel Edgerton as devoted gardener Narvel Roth who is torn when his wealthy employer Norma, played by Sigourney Weaver, tasks him with taking on her troubled great-niece Maya, played by Quintessa Swindell, as an apprentice.

Mr. Edgerton said the role unlocked aspects of himself that are usually shut off. “I’m not a violent person, but I can be. And acting allows me to express things that I keep a lid on in my personal life,” he told Reuters.

FAMED MALE ITALIAN DIRECTOR SAYS HE WAS BORN A WOMANAward-winning Italian director Emanuele Crialese revealed on Sunday that he had been born a woman as he presented his highly autobiographical movie L’Immensita, starring Penelope Cruz, at the Venice Film Festival.

L’Immensita focuses on an Italian family growing up in 1970s Rome, where the eldest daughter identifies as a boy, throwing fuel onto already tense relations between her mother, played by Ms. Cruz, and her abusive, unfaithful father.

“It is inspired by my childhood and my own story,” said Mr. Crialese, whose last film, Terraferma, won the Special Jury Price at Venice in 2011.

“I was born biologically a woman, but that does not mean that I don’t have in me a huge part (that is a) female character. That is probably the best part of me,” he said, speaking publicly for the first time about his transition.

“At a certain point I had to make a choice … of whether to live or to die. You don’t choose to make that sort of journey. You are born that way,” he added.

He did not give any details of his transition, but said that as in his often-tender film, he relied on his mother for support and recognized the anxiety it caused her.

In the Italian-language movie, Mr. Cruz’s initially exuberant character buckles under the weight of her overbearing husband and a troubled trio of children, all of whom carry the scars of living in an unhappy household.

FRASER LEARNS NEW WAY TO MOVE IN OBESITY DRAMAUS actor Brendan Fraser, returning to the big screen as a leading man after a nine-year absence, said on Sunday playing the obese hero of The Whale was the biggest challenge of his career.

The movie, directed by Darren Aronofsky, premiered at the Venice Film Venice, with Fraser already being touted as an Oscar contender for his portrayal of Charlie, a gay, 600-pound (270-kg) man, desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

The role required Mr. Fraser to don prosthetics and makeup that could take up to six hours to apply, leaving him barely able to walk in the cramped confines of Charlie’s dilapidated home.

“I needed to learn to absolutely move in a new way. I developed muscles I did not know I had,” Mr. Fraser told reporters ahead of the red-carpet opening. “It gave me an appreciation for those whose bodies are similar, because I learnt that you need to be an incredibly strong person physically and mentally to inhabit that physical being,” he said.

The film is an adaption of Samuel D. Hunter’s 2012 play of the same name, chronicling the rapid decline of Charlie, a gentle soul struggling to come to terms with the death of his partner and eating himself to death in his distress.

Despite the pain and anguish, Charlie’s compassionate heart, trapped beneath a wheezing mountain of skin, shines out as he looks to rekindle his relationship with his daughter, a deeply troubled teenager, played by Stranger Things star Sadie Sink.

“By far and away I think Charlie is the most heroic man I have ever played because his superpower is to see the good in others and bring that out,” said Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Aronofsky, whose movie The Wrestler won Venice’s main Golden Lion award in 2008, said one line in the script (“People are incapable of not caring”) inspired him to make the film.

“(It) is the most important message to put out in the world right now. Everyone is leaning into the cynicism and darkness and giving up hope. That is exactly what we don’t need right now,” Mr. Aronofsky said. — Reuters

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