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Franco draws crowds in Venice, his Faulkner film gets barbs

By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Actor and director James Franco's latest foray into American gothic in an adaptation of William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" met with a mixed critical reception at the Venice Film Festival on Friday, but fans were delighted to see him.

Franco, whose movie was shown out of competition at the world's oldest film festival, attracted big crowds for a presentation of a "Glory to the Filmmaker" award and a screening of his film at the Palace of Cinema on the Venice Lido.

Festival director Alberto Barbera, asked if the event was short on stars this year after having made a big splash when George Clooney and Sandra Bullock attended the world premiere of "Gravity" last year, cited the crowds who came out to see Franco, and Al Pacino last weekend, as evidence to the contrary.

"Al Pacino was as popular as Clooney, and James Franco today," Barbera said.

The screen adaptation of the novel by the Nobel literature prize-winning U.S. author is the second by Franco, who in 2013 directed, wrote the screenplay and starred in an adaptation of "As I Lay Dying".

Both novels, but particularly "As I Lay Dying", much of which takes place inside a dying woman's head, have been considered extremely challenging as film projects, though "The Sound and the Fury" was made into a 1959 film starring Joanne Woodward and Yul Brynner.

Franco said his "The Sound and the Fury", in which he also casts himself as the idiot son Benjy, one of three brothers in the former slave-owning Compson family which is sinking into ruin, differed significantly from the earlier version.

"It's a fine movie, I guess, but I would say the big difference is that when they adapted 'Sound and the Fury' it looks like their aim was to adapt simply the narrative, the story, and they did not make any attempt to take on the style or the structure of the book," Franco told a news conference.

"In my mind when I think of 'The Sound and the Fury' I don't think, 'Oh, yeah, it's a story about a Southern family's demise, like that is only half of it, and the other half is the way that it's written, how it's told, not just what is told.

"So as a filmmaker who's adapting that, I think I took it on as my responsibility to find film equivalents for the way that Faulkner was giving his effects in prose."

Although Faulkner's novel is highly complex, and Franco's version runs only 101 minutes, "it somehow manages to feel self indulgent nonetheless", the Indiewire cinema website said.

London's Evening Standard called Franco's incarnation of the grunting, slobbering Benjy "a brave performance, even if slightly like a parody of (Marlon) Brando".

"There may have been other ways to traverse the book but at least this one does it some honor," the Evening Standard's review said.

(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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