'99 Homes' brings US subprime crisis to Venice
Aug. 29, 2014
VENICE, Italy (AP) — Florida's realtors and tourism authorities will probably not be using "99 Homes" in their promotional material.
The Sunshine State looks pretty shady in Ramin Bahrani's Orlando-set drama, one of 20 films competing for prizes at the Venice Film Festival.
The movie stars Andrew Garfield as an evicted construction worker who sells his soul to the devil — or at least to Michael Shannon's reptilian real estate agent — and takes a job evicting other struggling souls to earn enough money to get his family home back.
A portrait of a financial system stacked in favor of the winners, it's "Wall Street" for the subprime mortgage era, and the director says he wanted to show a different side to a state famous for "golf carts and retirees, Magic Kingdoms and castles."
Bahrani, the director of grittily naturalistic indie movies including "Chop Shop" and "Goodbye Solo," researched the film by visiting real estate agencies, hedge-fund managers, fraud attorneys and foreclosure courts in the state.
"After two or three weeks in Florida, I was dizzied by the corruption," the American director told reporters in Venice on Friday.
Garfield and Shannon also dived into first-hand research. Shannon spent time with a real estate agent, while Garfield, like his character, stayed in a motel occupied by families whose homes had been repossessed.
The actor said he found the evictees remarkably willing to talk.
"It felt like they needed to share it constantly throughout the day to make sense of it," Garfield said. "Because it felt completely irrational and of course unjust, the situation they were in.
"I think it's impossible to make a film like this without honoring the people that are living it every day."
It's a story with global resonance since the 2008 banking crisis shook the global financial system, and "99 Homes" has received praise in Italy, one of the European countries whose economy has suffered most.
The movie certainly hasn't convinced its stars of the merits of home ownership. Shannon said he's "always found mortgages suspicious."
And despite gaining stardom as "The Amazing Spider-Man," Garfield said he doesn't own property.
"I have a surfboard and a Vespa," he said.
The film is dedicated to the late film critic Roger Ebert, who championed Bahrani's work.
"He never saw the film," Bahrani said. "I told him the story one time, very, very quickly, and he gave me the thumb's up."
The director encouraged the journalists to emulate Ebert in supporting "cinema that is emotional, cinema that is about something — cinema that is more than a selfie."
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