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"Happiness" sequel revisits family misery

By Mike Collett-White

VENICE (Reuters) - U.S. director Todd Solondz has revisited the disturbing world of his acclaimed 1998 film "Happiness," although the last thing the characters of "Life During Wartime" are is happy.

The movie, in competition at the Venice film festival, again centers around the Jordan family, although Solondz uses a different set of actors and bases the parts they play only loosely on the originals.

Like Happiness, Life During Wartime is a political and social satire that tackles tough, taboo topics like pedophilia, incest and suicide.

"I guess it's something of a post traumatic stress disorder kind of movie genre," Solondz told reporters.

"I didn't ever think I'd go back to them. They weren't haunting me. Once I started writing I think what I needed was to feel free to play with these characters in any way I wanted to."

In Life During Wartime, Joy, played by Scottish actress Shirley Henderson, discovers her troubled husband Allen is still making obscene phone calls, while sister Trish seeks to rebuild her life after discovering husband Bill abused young boys.

All the while their younger son Timmy tries to make sense of his family's dark past, and delivers the film's final lines: "I don't care about freedom and democracy. I just want my father."

POLITICALLY OVERT

Solondz said Life During Wartime was "a little more politically overt" than previous works, although it touches only lightly on themes of war and what it means to be Jewish.

"There was often a question 'Are you Jewish or are you American, what's your priority?' and it's a very relevant sort of question that comes up particularly today," he said. The issue of whether we can or should forgive and forget also runs through the movie, which had the audience laughing at its edgy humor during a press screening.

Much of the action is set in suburban Florida, a deliberate choice designed to explore a particular landscape and what it means for the people living there.

"There are a lot of shopping centers and malls and superstores combined with a lot of condominiums and gated communities that I try to describe as the 'Land of Generica'.

"I thought, 'how many people wouldn't give up all sorts of democracy and political liberties in order to just have the comforts of a condominium climate control and convenient shopping complexes with good parking."

Asked whether independent film makers working outside the Hollywood studio system were finding it tough to get financing during the recession, Solondz replied:

"Even at the best of times, this would have been a difficult film to get made. Not just for me but for all non-studio film makers, things do look grim," he said.

"What's my shred of hope? There are always people and things that happen that are unpredictable. If it's important enough to you and you persevere there is a possibility that something from the sky will come crashing down on your head."

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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