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Tom Ford enthrals Venice with thriller 'Nocturnal Animals'



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Fashion designer turned film director Tom Ford enthralled the Venice film festival Friday with a gripping tale of betrayal and revenge, unveiling two films in one with his hotly-anticipated "Nocturnal Animals".

The romantic thriller, Ford's second feature film after "A Single Man" (2009), spooked and stirred in equal part, with arresting performances from US stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal as lovers gone awry.

From the first scene -- wildly obese women dancing naked -- to the bittersweet close, the former Gucci designer produced a visually stunning and richly complex evocation of human frailty and retribution.

"Loyalty is important to me. The story is about when you find people in your life, you hang on to them. This is a cautionary tale about what can happen in your life when you let them go," Ford told journalists on Venice's Lido.

Adams, 42, plays Susan, who lives a privileged but lonely life in Los Angeles with her oft-absent husband. One day she receives a novel, "Nocturnal Animals", written by her ex-husband Edward, played by Gyllenhaal.


Edward's note, which asks her to read the novel and contact him, comes out of the blue, 19 years after she left him. It sparks a bout of soul-seeking from Susan, with flash-backs of her life with Edward, and unveils a dark secret.

"There was a rumble beneath the screenplay. Tom told me he absolutely had to tell this story and I couldn't say no," said Gyllenhaal, 35, who described playing a man impotent in the face of horror "wonderfully frustrating".

The narrative takes on a second strand as the violent events in the novel are played out as pictured in Susan's head as she reads, and she discovers the story is a channel for Edward to express the heartbreak she caused.

In the novel, Tony Hastings -- also played by Gyllenhaal -- is stopped by a creepy trio of joy-riders while driving across Texas at night, and his red-headed wife and daughter (resembling Susan and daughter) are abducted.

Hastings is left to try and track down the gang's ringleader, psychopathic Ray (played brilliantly by Britain's Aaron Taylor-Johnson), with the help of detective Bobby Andes (Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon).

Ford, who adapted the screenplay from Austin Wright's 1993 book "Tony and Susan", said "if it doesn't stay with you, haunt you, challenge you, it's not a successful film for me" -- not a concern he should have here.

'Very scary indeed'

He added that there was a lot of himself in all three characters -- Susan, Tony and Edward. Susan "with her lack of self-confidence", Tony and Edward who are sensitive rather than dominant. "They do not possess the stereotypical traits of masculinity that our culture often expects, yet in the end they both triumph. As a boy growing up in Texas, I was anything but what was considered classically masculine.

"Many things from my own life have worked their way into the screenplay for the film, just as details from Susan and Edward's life together seeped into Edward's story," he added.

Adams manages to make troubled Susan sympathetic, something she found difficult: "it was a tricky one to prepare because when I first started exploring Susan, I didn't like her, and I can't play a character I don't like".

For his part, family-man Aaron Taylor-Johnson, 26, said he did a lot of research for his role, including extensive reading on American serial killer, kidnapper, rapist, and necrophile Ted Bundy. (AFP)

Homepage photo credit: Nicolas genin [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, Stills from Nocturnal Animals, TIFF

Nocturnal Animals
Tom Ford
Venice Film Festival