What a pleasure it is to watch Al Pacino’s Wilde Salome. There is no need to present the legend that is the man who played Michael Corleone, Serpico, Tony Montana and Sonny Wortzik, just his name evokes scenes, characters and quotes from dozens of films. Yet after a career of more than forty impressive years, Pacino still finds a way to challenge himself and share his passion about acting with the rest of us.
Wilde Salome is his second documentary as a director, the first was Looking for Richard, where a camera followed him while preparing for the staging of a performance of Richard III by William Shakespeare. That was in 1996 and although the world and Hollywood has changed a great deal, Pacino’s passion for acting and for the classics is still as strong as ever.
In Wilde Salome he takes the same concept of Looking for Richard but ups the ante, taking it one step further: this time Pacino is making a documentary, a play and a film, all about Oscar Wilde’s controversial and long banned work Salome “a scintillating tale of lust, greed and one woman’s scorn”, all at the same time. I’m doing it to save you money, he says to the producers, in one of the many moments of the film that leads to laughter as we watch Pacino’s charisma exude from the screen.
Wilde Salome becomes the compelling story of Pacino’s obsession, as he states at the beginning of the film: his obsession about Oscar Wilde and Salome, about this great story of love and passion, but also of revenge and hatred. With Pacino as our perfect tour guide we go from New York to London, to Dublin to Los Angeles following Oscar Wilde’s steps. We learn about Wilde’s life in London and it’s a journey inside one of the best minds of western literature. It’s no coincidence that after Shakespeare Pacino chooses Wilde for his second documentary. Both the film being directed by Pacino and the theatre play, directed by Estelle Parsons are an attempt to break the rules, to go further and experiment using Wilde’s text as a pad launch. The opening of the play in Los Angeles is not well met by critics and audience, maybe because Estelle and Pacino chose to stage it as a reading more than an actual play, even though the actors were off book and wearing costumes. The film was very experimental, shot in a studio with no external locations. But as we watch pieces of the film there is no need for locations. It’s all in the acting. It’s all there, we do not need more. It’s all in Jessica Chastain’s eyes when she asks for the head of John the Baptist whose only fault was to resist her beauty. He did not kiss her. And so Salome get what she wants, as the audience’s eyes are glued to the screen.
It’s nice to follow behind the scenes, see what happens behind the camera when Pacino’s directing, when he is acting. You don’t need to be a fan of Al Pacino’s films to enjoy Wilde Salome, you don’t even have to be a fan of Oscar Wilde for that matter. If you like films, if you love theater and want to see with your own eyes what passion means, then Wilde Salome will definitely not leave you disappointed. I hate that it is all about money, explodes Pacino when producers tell him that he may not be able to complete the film as their budget is running to an end. I’m glad his passion was stronger than the producers rational minds, otherwise we may have not been able to see one of the most satisfying films at this year’s Venice film Festival; too bad it’s not in competition.