AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
by Harlan Kennedy
"WHERE HAVE ALL the gondolas gone?"
We heard the tourists' wail from
across the lagoon. For the gondolas had gone – or come – to the
The Dustin voice was at full commanding quack. David Mamet's play as metaphor for breakdown of Western society and culture ... great to be here in Venice, Italy ... love your tagliatelle al verde...Mamet's play as plate of tagliatelle al verde...great to be here in the breakdown of Western society and culture....
Or maybe that last bit was the
Italian translation. Once again in 1996 fest boss Gillo
Pontecorvo got the
Flaunting its longevity, the beast had a nostalgic time in '96, wooed by Jean-Luc Godard, Volker Schlöndorff, Ken Loach, Manoel de Oliveira, and other Methuselahs. Robert De Niro was back again on the Lido, his home away from home, bringing the opening flick Sleepers. And to complete the link to times past, this writer's two fave competition films and co-winners of the esteemed "Harlano d'Oro" were a Mexican remould of a Sixties cult U.S. movie and an American remould of a remould of a remould....
The latter is Abel
Profundo Carmesi, Arturo Ripstein's take on The Honeymoon Killers, was for me the treat of the Mostra, bar none. In place of Leonard Kastle's tabloid-TV monochrome we have a melodrama in luscious mud colors starring Regina Orozco and Daniel Gimenez Cacho as the fat nurse and midlife widower who meet, mate, and murder. She looks like Rita Hayworth after a pie-eating contest. He thinks he looks like his idol Charles Boyer (we're in the 1940s), despite dyed hair that includes an accident-prone peruque.
This film exhibits no respect for decent human values, so should be required viewing for every media moralist. Instead of a wholesome humanism, Ripstein offers an emetic honesty. The camera sits there voyeuristic and unsparing while the main couple's souls and faces fill up with a bloated satiety mixed with existential dread. The film is sometimes funny, but never cheap. The final scenes are so richly mixed that you can't separate hilarity from shock, titillation from apocalypse. A runaway toupee; a face near-drowned in a bowl of engine oil; a girl knifed in front of her own child; a pair of human beings dressed in their Sunday best to be shot down in a puddle by cynical, tired policemen. All human life is here, lent sonority and a shudder by all human death. The jury, which must have thought about giving it the Gilded Cat, festooned it instead with three top craft awards for photog, music, and design.
Harking back to old masters, Ripstein shows that nostalgia needn't be old-fashioned. Fashion
is what's oldfashioned;
for great new cinema will always remind us of great old cinema. And wouldn't ya know it,
And boy, are they dissolving. Take Abolfazi Jalili's A True Story and Michael Lindsay-Hogg's Guy: two talking-point movies that represented, respectively, film as hyper-documentary and film as meta-porn.
Guy is intriguing. Point-of-view movies almost never work (see Lady in the Lake, alias Lady in Your Face), yet this one does. For ninety minutes Vincent D'Onofrio is tracked by the camera of an unseen voyeuse-heroine – that is, he sees her, we don't – who gets her kicks from video-hijacking the lives of strangers. She wears him down into doing everything for the lens, and we mean everything, while they sort of weirdly fall in love.
Made riveting by the reactive richness of D'Onofrio's performance (he also co-produced), Guy takes the audience's prurience and turns it like a mirror to their own faces. More than a movie, it's a deconstruction of moviegoing. Britain's Lindsay-Hogg has never directed anything this mesmeric before, which inclines one to dole out equal credit to writer Kirby Dick and double-strike deus praesens D'Onofrio. Has this man been bitten by creative adventure after playing Orson Welles in Ed Wood?
The Iranian film A True
Story also goes for spectator disorientation. It's about a filmmaker,
played by the real director Abolfazi Jalili, who sets aside a planned fictional movie on
learning that its newfound lead – a 14-year-old Turkish urchin he discovered
working in a bakery – has a crippled leg and can't do the running scenes. So
the fiction flick becomes a docu and the boy's
search for surgery becomes the subject. Top
Some other movie ideas at
Jordan's epic about the founder of the IRA founders on another set of initials: RPM, or bio-pic hokum. Any hint that Collins was a complex human being, rather than a Socialist Realist statue wired for sound, is undone by Liam Neeson's performance. This Irish icon waves his fists, speaks the speeches, and nobly goes to his death by assassination while never suggesting – any more than the blockbuster around him, complete with sloppily composited "real" characters and a Hollywood love triangle with Aidan Quinn and Julia Roberts – the microcircuitry of irony, happenstance, and self-inquisition that can link the fate of a nation to the soul of an individual.
Even worse is Carla's Song, fondly
For Ever Mozart and Otar Iosseliani's Brigands were better. losseliani, spanning centuries
of Slavic history from the Middle Ages to now, gives us a multicharacter
meditation on man's inhumanity to man and woman, modeled after Les Favoris de la Lune.
The Monsieur Hulot-resembling director
accepted his third
As for Godard,
he no longer makes movies but crackpot calendar art: post-Trotskyist
tableaux accompanied by sawn-off string music, hieroglyph dialogue, and
wrecked narrative signposts. What this new pageant means, in which soldiers,
filmmakers, and assorted capitalists crisscross a bomb-torn Balkan landscape
Three runner-up pix at
But the real antidote to
soapbox cinema was Portrait of a
Lady. Jane Campion reconceives
Henry James's tale of a self-willed American girl kidnapped by European
dilettantism, diffusing the story through a style that truly is the content.
The surrealism of The Piano becomes a kind of opium den expressionism.
Nicole Kidman's Isabel Archer drifts through a sfumato of shadows, period
decor and weirdly cambered master-shots – fancy an upside-down
The film loosens every cliché in the costume drama book, not least its high-toned sexlessness. Campion's ghostly adviser might have been Henry James's brother William, the proto-Freudian shrink. We are hardly into scene two before a three-way erotic fantasy steals onto the screen from Isabel's mind. And when all else fails, which it seldom does, Campion dares a piece of outrageous sensual Dadaism, like the trayful of dismembered talking lips. (Society gossip imaged as salon canapés: go for it!) In removing the corsets from period cinema, Campion allows the past to breathe, expand, and even make mating motions towards the present. As enacted here, Isabel Archer's "liberation" speaks to us all and Nicole Kidman's looks and performance – gulp in alarm at first sight of that blanched makeup and frizzed electric hair – give us a heroine formidably believable for both the 1890s and 1990s.
Portrait shows that cinema, like all art, shouldn't busy itself demarcating between time zones. "I wish I had been born in the age of Méliès, when the seventh art was just beginning," mused jury prez Roman Polanski one day, in one or more languages. He was addressing the press in front of a blue screen at the inauguration of the Virtual Reality Set. The digitalized TV monitors added marble pillars, roaring lions, bits of movies, and god knows what else behind him. Later we festgoers ramble through the Set ourselves, pressing switches, pushing buttons and causing panic in cyberspace.
Méliès and mêlées. Meanwhile, to add to dimensional confusion, we wondered who would be pixel'd in on the giant screen of the Venice Mostra itself as next festival president, since Gillo Pontecorvo had announced he would not seek a fifth term. As everyone from Bertolucci to Umberto Eco was scanned for eligibility, odds shortened that Ponty's successor would actually be ...Ponty. "Un' anno di piu!" shouted his fans. "Per che non?" shrugged everyone else.
But it was not to be. The owner of the café where I sip my espressi said one day, "It's going to rain." "How do you know?" I asked "You can smell the fish in the lagoon." Ah. So with her agreement I penciled out Pontecorvo – the name means bridge – and now predict that his successor will have a name involving fish, rain, or lagoons. My nomination: Pioggia Carpelaguno.
Sure enough, Gillo announced on last night that he was off to enjoy
retirement and a cappucino in
Finally, of course, there were
Bobby and Dustin, together on the
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE NOV-DEC 1996 ISSUE OF FILM COMMENT.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.