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Jesse Eisenberg in Night Moves. Watch a clip from Night Moves.
Jesse Eisenberg in Night Moves. Watch a clip from Night Moves.

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More 2013 Venice Film Festival coverage:
Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is Lightning From the Heavens
Nicolas Cage and the Misery of Joe



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Far more cheerful, in a "you could actually take your mom to it" kind of way, is Stephen Frears's Philomena, in which Judi Dench plays an aged Irishwoman who gave birth out of wedlock 50 years ago. Her father consigned her to a Magdalene Laundries–type convent, where the baby was taken away from her and sold by the nuns to American parents. Philomena, who has clung to Catholicism all her life despite the raw deal it gave her, finally decides to take action to find her son; Steve Coogan plays the out-of-work political journalist who signs on to help her.

Philomena is based on a true story (it was adapted, by Coogan and Jeff Pope, from Martin Sixsmith's book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee), and parts of it are heartrending. But Frears modulates the emotional pitch carefully: The picture is never too saccharine or too bitter. And Dench and Coogan are marvelous together. The two grate against each other at first, romantic-comedy-style, before settling into a bumptious arm-in-arm rapport. Coogan's character, mortified when he learns some details about how the young Philomena was treated by the sisters, utters the immortal words, "Fucking Catholics!" The audience, here in this extremely Catholic country, laughed and clapped. There are many significant differences between the Irish and the Italians, but evil nuns? They're the universal language.

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