AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
VENICE 2005 –
THE 62nd MOSTRA DEL CINEMA
RIDE ‘EM COWBOY!
by Harlan Kennedy
It was just like old times at the Doge’s Palace in St. Mark’s square.
Casanova was there, chatting animatedly to the Chief Vatican Inquisitor. The
Doge himself passed between guests, clinking goblets and discussing Venetian
Yes, it was the party for CASANOVA. It starred Heath Ledger as the legendary lover, Jeremy Irons as the Inquisitor, Lasse Hallstrom as the filmmaker, Marco Muller as the director of the Mostra del Cinema, and festivalgoers passim as the guest list.
What better way to inaugurate the 62nd
To protect them and us, security was at its highest ever. “I didn’t expect the Italian Inquisition!” joked some of us as our bags were searched, badges scrutinised and protests answered with instant detainment in the Sala Parla, formerly the gambling casino. Here we were told: “Nobody expects the Italian Inquisition! Our weapons are two. Fear, terror and the threatened confiscation of accreditation. Three weapons!….”
Yes, it was just like old times. Meanwhile a more localised sense of déjà vu was established by actor Heath Ledger, who appeared in three main-event movies in three days, a festival record. His Casanova filled the sandwich between Ang Lee’s love western BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and Terry Gilliam’s broken-backed but still barnstorming fairytale THE BROTHERS GRIMM.
Lee’s film was the towering wonder of the opening days. It may be the
In the past, director Ang Lee has hopscotched between genres with daring agility, missing his footing just twice, with the disappointing HULK and his earlier western RIDE WITH THE DEVIL. Is this new oater his atonement for the first? He certainly goes the distance, in two different directions. One moment he fills the screen with spectacle: sheep flowing like vast rivers of wool, mountain-flanks that seem to breathe near-imperceptibly like giant buffaloes. The next, he places a jeweller’s glass over emotional nuance. Ledger and Gyllenhaal try to fit the precious sparkle of their passion into the duller multifacetedness of life lived by the rules of machismo and (for both eventually) marriage. The very fitfulness of this passion story is both its passion and its story.
As twenty years roll by, the two men have nothing but infrequent
‘fishing trips’ for comfort and consummation: trips that for one wife at
least (Michelle Williams) become increasingly transparent. The smaller their
times together, the larger becomes their yearning, the more talismanic every
symbol or token of their love. By the close a borrowed shirt has become eucharistic (and heartbreaking) just as earlier a
bubbling coffee pot of a certain shape and uprightness – and don’t tell me Ang Lee put it in that campfire scene unconsciously –
tells us what is percolating in the boys’ dormant libidos. Most touching of
all in this tale of a tragic defiance driven by the heart, not the mind, is
that neither man is knowingly or unknowingly a moral rebel. Their minds are
not large enough to interrogate the rules of the society they were born in.
They just stumbled into a force of nature that only the brute force of
civilisation insists is unnatural: one whose backwoods bigotry is still
preserved and beatified in Bush’s neo-Con
We got a visit from Hayao Miyazaki. Just about the most mythical easterner since Kubla Khan, with his caverns of movie fantasy measureless to man, Miyazaki-san is scarcely seen more often than Kubla K in this hemisphere. The man who made PRINCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY and (remember where you read about it first) HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, a smash at last year’s Venice, took a Career Achievement Golden Lion. He was cheered to the ceiling in the vast Sala Grande, which has seen similar gongs handed out recently to Eric Rohmer and Michelangelo Antonioni.
And how about a prize for
Park turns the screen into an action painting with ‘action’ the operative word. A pell-mell plot pixillated with indescribable violence (so I won’t try) splashes over the screen in a glory of kinetic wipes, split screens, surrealised backdrops and scenes that are often frighteningly bizarro. Can you imagine a studio snowscape traversed by a heroine dragging a sled that encages a wild dog with a man’s head. You needn’t imagine it: it happens. The filmmaker known to some as Park Can-spook reaches into his audience and grabs it by the vitals. The movie’s last act, with its vengeance a la carte reading like some menu from Hell and its chefs – who are the slain children’s assembled parents – all clothing themselves in rainproof gear for the slaughter entrée (eat your heart out, AMERICAN PSYCHO), is at once hideously funny and utterly smile-wiping. You must reach back to Ford and Tourneur to find a precedent for this revenge richness. I mean, of course, the Ford of ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE, not THE SEARCHERS, and the Tourneur of THE REVENGERS TRAGEDY, not THE COMEDY OF TERRORS.
Huppert lends a steely anguish to the wife humbled by her return to a moribund marriage after a walkout. Chereau’s adaptation of Conrad’s THE RETURN has a sizzling formalism, two brilliant performances (the other by Pascal Greggory) and lashings of discordant music reminding us that Schoenberg was alive, well and atonal as early as 1912.
deftly blends bitchiness and yearning as a toyboy
collector in Cantet’s
But for those who predict prizes, there is many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. The cup in this case, the Coppa Volpi for Best Actress, went to outsider Giovanna Mezzogiorno. In Christina Comencini’s medium-powerful LA BESTIA NEL CUORE she plays an unhappy woman trying to connect the fragments of her life. The prize gave the host nation a victory to celebrate in a festival where nationhood seemed an increasingly elusive, indeed downright fugitive concept.
Air traffic control has a busy time in world cinema today. Filmmakers
jet around the globe doing transcultural projects.
Just because you’re born in country A, B or C doesn’t mean you can’t make
movies in country X, Y or Z. Take the cases of helmers
F. Meirelles and
***THE CONSTANT GARDENER. It takes an inspired madness to think of it.
A John Le Carre novel about a British diplomat’s
idealistic misadventures in
*****THE WILD BLUE YONDER. Werner Herzog goes to America, then into
space. What a flier this ex-New German Cinema prodigy still is! He can loop
the loopy. He can skywrite entire poems to the madnesses
mankind commits in the name of science, progress or civilisation. (Choose
your false god). Brad Dourif is the
extraterrestrial explaining to camera why he and co-aliens bungled their
long-ago colonisation of Earth. Their capital city failed because no one came
to shop. The derelict mall behind him proves the point: a crumbling folly in
Consumer Neoclassical. God knows, Dourif muses,
this should have deterred
For eccentricity, mind you, Herzog was up against keen competition. We would be a poorer world without Jaume Balaguero’s girl-meets-ghoul story FRAGILE, like THE OTHERS a Spanish-directed screamer set on an unoffending British island (Isle of Wight) and starring a spook-me-crazy overseas actress (Calista Flockhart); or without Philippe Garrel’s LES AMANTS REGULIERS, picking up a Best Director Silver Lion, no less, for its determination to last three hours and to equal Jean Eustache in giving a minimal French love story a hectoring, headlong pertinacity; or without Joao Botelho’s O FATALISTA, which shows that Manoel de Oliveira (also in Venice, aged 96, escorting his latest jewelled cryptogram ESPELHO MAGICO) is not the only Portuguese picturemaker able to turn human stories into static tableaux of talkiness, here inspired by Diderot’s JACQUES LE FATALISTE.
This last will cause natives of that continent to run screaming into the Black Forest, determined to root out evidence that the fairytale-writing fratelli might ever, even indirectly, have been ancestors to Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, let alone lexical forebears to Terry Gilliam, whose name is of course an anagram of the words ‘Grimm Travesty.’ (Well, almost).
Standing lean, tall and clear of most
This one is about 1950s CBS radio presenter Ed Murrow and his on-air fight against Senator McCarthy’s anticommunist purges. Taking a whack at HUAC (House UnAmerican Activities Committee) was a brave thing to do back then. Murrow took repeated whacks, helping to bring about the famous moment when Judge Welch humbled and felled McCarthy with the words, “Have you no sense of decency? Have you, sir, at last, no sense of decency….” David Strathairn plays Murrow with a dark astringent skill, though for me a spontaneous and credible human being never quite leaped forth from a sound impersonation. Clooney, Robert Downey and Frank Langella deliver crack cameos. McCarthy himself plays McCarthy, in electrifying news and archive footage. The film is in black and white, with a nicely crafted script (“Every time you light a cigarette for me, I know you’re lying”) and a slightly too accurate replication – at times – of the dour intimism and boxy acoustic of early television.
For sheer entertainment, there was plenty to cheer at
And in between, for spanking oddity and dark hilarity, you could hardly beat TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE. This continues the director’s bizarre habit of casting his partner, Helena Bonham Carter, in roles suggesting something the cat brought in, after pawing it over first in the rain. (Consider her witch in BIG FISH and her downtrodden housewife in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.) Now – though in voice only, the physical presence being animated – Bonham Carter is the nuptial cadaver of the title in Burton’s delectable danse macabre, scripted from an old folk legend (if you’ve got any old folk, get them to give you their legends), cast with stick figurines and stormingly scored by the indispensable Danny BATMAN Elfman. Very hummable, very humorous.
Did someone say ‘storms’? They lashed the Lido in final days, driving sunbathers off beaches, impaling the festival buffet tent with lightning forks, cracking the sky with rending roars, and having a watery impact even on that refuge for the enlightened on the Gran Viale, so often praised on this site, the Mostra Del Cina.
This is the gelateria where ice creams are served to the discerning and where ‘Cina’ proves herself, year in, year out, and this year as much as ever, the hostess with the mostest on the coastest. Rain cannot deter, nor the sun by day nor the moon by night, her simpatico presence, nor the civilising synergy of esurience and epigram whereby the sampling of perfect Gianduiottos goes hand in hand, or spoon in glass, with good conversation and insights into Italian thoughts, mores and manners.
So the 2005
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.