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In Dubious Battle Movie Review (Venice Film Festival 2016)

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In Dubious Battle Movie Review (Venice Film Festival 2016)

Title: In Dubious Battle

Director: James Franco

Starring: Nat Wolff, James Franco, Vincent D’Onofrio, Selena Gomez, Ahna O’Reilly, Analeigh Tipton, Jack Kehler, Scott Haze, Sam Shepard, Joel Marsh Garland, John Savage, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris.

‘In Dubious Battle’ is a novel written by John Steinbeck in 1936, that recounts a fruit worker strike that occurred in Tulare County, California, in 1933. The central figure of the story is an activist who organises a major strike by fruit pickers, seeking thus to attract followers to his cause.

“The Last Unicorn” (as Marina Abramovic defined polymath James Franco) has always had a passion for Steinbeck, interpreting ‘Of Mice And Men’ on Broadway and taking part in the documentary that explores the legacy and meanings of John Steinbeck’s realist novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ James Franco grew up in California, near the hometown of the American author, and began reading his novels at a very young age, making Steinbeck part of the fabric of his childhood.

It is understandable how he takes on his themes and language so brilliantly, and adapts them for a contemporary audience, preserving the authenticity of their historical context.

‘In Dubious Battle’ — the title of which is a reference to a passage from John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ — marks Steinbeck’s supreme interest in what happens to men’s minds and hearts when they function not as responsible, self-governing individuals, but as members of a group.

In the California apple country nine hundred migratory workers rise up against the landowners after getting paid a faction of the wages they were promised. The group takes on a life of its own — stronger than its individual members and more frightening. Led by Jim Nolan (Nat Wolff) and Mac McLeod (James Franco), the strike is founded on tragic idealism — on the “courage never to submit or yield.”

The film boasts a cast of first class actors such as Sam Shepard, Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio and Ed Harris who deliver some of the best performances of their careers. James Franco does a terrific job both as an actor and director.

The film is visually powerful with scenes of the strikers marching, that evoke the painting ‘The Path of Workers’ also known as ‘The Fourth Estate,’ made by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo in 1901. That picture not only depicts a scene of social life — a strike — it is a symbol, where people are given equal space as shown by a woman with a baby in her arms walking alongside men. In the same manner ‘In Dubious Battle’ is a remarkable portrait that shows the unity of the genders in fighting for their rights.

Technical: A

Acting: A

Story: B+

Overall: A-

Written by: Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

In Dubious Battle Movie Review (Venice Film Festival 2016)

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Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi, is a film critic, culture and foreign affairs reporter, screenwriter, film-maker and visual artist. She studied in a British school in Milan, graduated in Political Sciences, got her Masters in screenwriting and film production and studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York and Los Angeles. Chiara’s “Material Puns” use wordplay to weld the title of the painting with the materials placed on canvas, through an ironic reinterpretation of Pop-Art, Dadaism and Ready Made. She exhibited her artwork in Milan, Rome, Venice, London, Oxford, Paris and Manhattan. Chiara works as a reporter for online, print, radio and television and also as a film festival PR/publicist. As a bi-lingual journalist (English and Italian), who is also fluent in French and Spanish, she is a member of the Foreign Press Association in New York, the Women Film Critics Circle in New York, the Italian Association of Journalists in Milan and the Federation of Film Critics of Europe and the Mediterranean. Chiara is also a Professor of Phenomenology of Contemporary Arts at IED University in Milan.

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