AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
by Harlan Kennedy
We came by camel, swaying across the parched valley floor that was once
When we swayed in sight of the
You think it
couldn’t happen? At the 60th Mostra del
Cinema it almost did. The Lifetime
Tribute Award went to Omar Sharif, for services to
shimmering across deserts. The
No love story was
ever closer to a fear story, right from the off. And when their Hummer gets
bumped from behind in the midst of nowhere in the final reel in the broiling
sun in the mother of all wildernesses, it’s time for terror. Think
DELIVERANCE crossed with LA VIE DE JESUS (
In CODE 46 the
The drought in A
SILENCE BETWEEN TWO THOUGHTS is multi-meaning.
the grimly droll
No film festival is complete without Lars von Trier. In THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS the mad Dane with dogs on the brain – from DOGME95 to DOGVILLE – cries havoc and lets slip the dogs of W.A.R. That’s Wilful Aesthetic Relativism, as demonstrated in this eccentric nonfiction impromptu which shows Trier himself commanding fellow Danish director Jorgen Leth to remake Leth’s own modestly famous short film THE PERFECT HUMAN, a droll, mock-scientific look at the human body in action and repose.
remake it five different ways, with rules and handicaps imposed by Lars. Use
12-frame shots in one version; make another as a cartoon; shoot an eating and
drinking scene in a third amid hungry onlookers in a
In the gospel
according to Lars – to resume our over-theme – the cinema’s traditional norms
and forms are bones in the desert and movie narrative a skeleton needing new
armature. Even human compassion needs a fresh wardrobe or war chest. We must
test-obliterate the clichés of human sympathy with scenes like the, frankly
shocking, one of Leth’s chowdown
Grim new worlds
encourage backlash nostalgia, of course, and
DREAMERS. 1968? If you remember it you didn’t live through it, goes the gag.
But try being beaten up by the
Samurai comeback! Takeshi Kitano is a hard act for Takeshi Kitano to follow.
But he tries. Just as DOLLS wrongfooted fans of
BROTHER, ZATOICHI is a surprise swerve, a dummy dribble, after DOLLS. Kitano
himself stars as the blind warrior-masseur beating seven hells out of the Ginzo gang in 19th century
In mid-festival we were still awaiting the surefire crowd and jury pleaser that would clinch top prize. Jerry, a colleague, said to me one day, “I’m still not over the moon about any competition film.” To which I answered, “Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon, we have the stars.”
And we did. What a constellation. Nic Cage, Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, Tony Banderas, Sir Tony Hopkins, ‘Gorgeous’ George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Douglas, Emma Thompson. Each evening journalists watched the stars’ limos stream past the little wood, the Bosco dei Derelitti, where the said hungry journos queued at foodstands for pizza slices and cold beer. Occasionally a celebrity would toss a chicken-bone through the tinted window and a scramble would ensue. Sometimes a colleague hungrier than others would cling on to the limo’s fender as it swept towards the waving spotlights of the Palazzo Grande. In front of the cinema the offending hack would be prised off by brutal security guards, then led back to his feeding area.
Happily I won a VIP
pass in a raffle. I avoided this ordeal, though there were others on offer
for the privileged. Woody Allen opened the festival by saying “I never watch
any of my films” and exiting stage right before the curtain could rise on
ANYTHING ELSE. The poor genius had already done his duty by sitting through
an opening ceremony longer than any in the history of mankind. It lasted just
over an eternity by my watch. It contained speeches from everyone in northern
cruelty? No, that was still to come. And as rendered by the Coens it was joy unconfined. Clooney and Zeta-Jones star
in the funniest movie since mirth came into being 12 billion years ago, formed
from hot gases as energy turned to matter somewhere near Sunset and Vine.
(This is a scientific fact). Lawyer comedies were never better than
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY surely, even in the days of Hepburn and Tracy, of
Beaumont and Fletcher, of Plautus and Terence. (Not
to be confused with Philip and Terrance of the 2000-years-later
Hollywood delivered again with 21 GRAMS, though it is moot whether a film directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu from a script by fellow-Latin Guillermo Arriaga Jordan, albeit starring Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro and Naomi Watts, should wear the label ‘Made in Tinseltown’ or ‘Mex and Match’. The plot is a wild cocktail of mayhem and mischance, birth and death, karma and causality: a SHORT CUTS shaken and stirred by a director who has seen too many soap operas but knows that the ‘all human life’ formula can do for great art as well as daytime drama. 21 GRAMS almost sat up and begged for an acting prize, which it duly won. Sean Penn got the guerdon.
Yes, plots still
exist, drunk on their own eventfulness, even in a world where the
sophisticated art future may lie in Lacuna Land: that desert country where
lakes have dried but designer mirages, teasing and teleological, provide
deeper satisfaction. At
Here the kidnapping and murder of Italian premier Aldo Moro are dramatised, that traumatic act of the last Terrorists‘R’Us era before this one – the 60s/70s – when the west’s own guerrillas took lethal head-shots at authority. Bellocchio puts us not just inside the ground-floor apartment but inside the ground-zero minds of the half-dozen youngsters who seized Moro from his motorcade, imprisoned him in a cubbyhole behind a bookshelf, and after long weeks in which everyone from the press to the Pope cried out for his liberation executed him. The girl terrorist (Maya Sansa), a little predictably, is the one privileged here with finer feelings: she pleads for Moro to be spared. Elsewhere the film’s unyieldingness is its strength. It’s a story of the eternal, unresolvable standoff between fallible democracy and those who will pay any price – or exact it – for their vision of political Utopia.
Everyone thought Bellocchio would get the Golden Lion, not least as an Italian in an Italian fest with an Italian jury president (Mario Monicelli). Instead an outside bet overtook on the inside track and suddenly everyone was exclaiming, “Ooh look the Russian film has won!”
Andrei Zvyagintsev’s THE RETURN is a feelgood film about feeling bad, a tragedy of loss with a winning humanity. Maybe audiences watching the troubled reunion between a mysterious father and the two sons he hasn’t seen for 12 years – and is he really their dad despite mum’s assurance? – were predisposed to emotional meltdown by the extra-filmic actuality of one actor’s death. On screen the trio’s ill-fated fishing trip ends in fresh bereavement. Off screen Vladimir Garin, playing the older son, drowned in a lake near the very one where the film was shot, attempting a ‘dare’ similar to the one with which the story opens.
Even without that aide-pleurer this
is a poignant film, pitch-perfect in mood, tempo and atmosphere. Zvyagintsev’s mise-en-scene
honours the poetic potential of the original screenplay by Vladimir Moiseenko and Alexandr Novototsky with its reverberant musings on parent-child
love in an orphaned post-communist country. (Do we detect the emergence of a
Russian cinema leitmotif? For a compare-and-contrast treatment of a
near-identical subject consider Alexandr Sokurov’s FATHER AND SON. That grabbed the International
Critics Prize at
The jury wasn’t all-wise. It also gave Best Actress award to Katjia Riemann, trying to stay afloat in the sudsy conventionality of Margarethe von Trotta’s ROSENSTRASSE – a history lesson about Gestapo-bereaved wives protesting for their husbands’ release during the Third Reich – and donated Best Director to Kitano for a movie he could, and possibly did, do in his sleep.
Nothing went to two more piquant Oriental flicks, Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE from Thailand and Im Sangsoo’s A GOOD LAWYER’S WIFE from Korea. First is a quirky neo-Godardian romance between an on-the-lam guy and off-the-street gal who prattle jazzy non-sequiturs when not observing gnomic, art-movieish silences (they must both have seen BREATHLESS too many times). Ratanaruang, who made 6IXTYNIN9 and MON-RAK TRANSISTOR, paints striking compositions even when not knowing quite what to do with the figures in them.
A GOOD LAWYER’S WIFE is a tale of sex on the side, with an extended look at a family that stays together by sleeping apart. Director Sangsoo delivers his unfaithful hero’s frustrated wife into a teenage neighbour’s arms. Soon the sexual positions are permutating even while the plot goes into virtual standstill. Not, as they say in SEINFELD, that that’s a bad thing, especially when presented with a film of pixie wit by a filmmaker clearly worth watching.
In fact standstill
is more or less where we came in. Storylessness as
the storytelling of the future. Narrative deserts as the
As if to honour and acknowledge that script for revolution the festival closed with Jim Jarmusch’s COFFEE AND CIGARETTES. Ten essays in honed inconsequentiality parading as a feature film. A screenplay going nowhere with wit, gall and impious purpose. (But isn’t that what life does?) And a cast of the cinema’s best losers, including Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Steve Coogan and Roberto Benigni, acting their socks off to persuade us that nothing in the world is more fascinating than – nothing.
Perhaps it is time
for cinema to join that august crew of colleague arts, including painting,
music, poetry and the modern novel, which insist that the human story is too
rich and complex to be tackled merely by the telling of tales. I shall be
back for more – or less – in
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD FILM.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.