Everyone went crazy. Cheers rang out in
the lush Palazzo del Cinema auditorium. Men stood
up, women stood up. Ageing dignitaries in the balcony ratcheted themselves
into an ovation position. From wall to wall swept the
Venetian wave of movement, the sea-like surge of applause.
Was it the Second Coming? A visit by the Pope?Elvis Presley
descending from the clouds onto the Lido?
No it was Italians applauding
Michelangelo Antonioni. On they cheered as the
frail maestro walked, or was walked by two helpers each holding a precarious
elbow, towards the dais of deification. This man who would be 90 on September
29th - only excuse a festival needs for apotheosis - once was Italian cinema,
and he once made a film regularly voted among the two or three greatest ever.
After the ailing genius, who couldn’t mount the five steps to the stage but
received his Lifetime Golden Lion in the front stalls with back to the
cheering audience, sat down, we all watched it, him included.
L’AVVENTURA. They don’t make movies like
this any more. 140 minutes of sculpted human despair like ice laid on the heart. Yet at the end you don’t want to leave.
You want another 140 minutes. Beautiful, soul-baring cinema: cinema to make
you a better person. Isn’t this what film is for, and festivals, and the Venice festival?
the heart of the jungle, where movie stalls riot amid mosquito-laden trees,
there was a giant soft-toy winged lion. It was a lovely lion. It crouched
there on a trestle table, winning all hearts.
vigilant eyes were as appealing as its handsome mane, felt wings and noble
but cuddly paws. Many suspected it was an ex-teddy bear miraculously transformed
into a king of the jungle and surviving everything festival life could throw
at it. Pawed by passers-by; rained on; hugged by madpersons;
asked for autographs. If so, what better mascot than this Ursus
Major turned Leo Maximus for the new festival
Buongiorno, Moritz de Hadeln! (applause).
New leader of the
oldest filmfest in the world, you ruled Berlin for 22 years. Now you have swapped Golden Bears
for Golden Lions.
E verissimo. Early this year, when Venice panicked after another session of revolving
knives (dismissing the latest Mostra del Cinema
manager Alberto Barbera, the fourth since 1990), Hadeln was picked as the Man Most Likely. Most likely to
do a short-order salvation job in putting a filmfest
together in five months. Most likely to maintain ties with Hollywood, befriended during his Teutonic tenure. Most
likely to get art up and running on the LidodiVenezia, the sandspit where every September, come rain, hail and
thunder (and they do), Europe holds back
the tide of world cine-illiteracy.
Hadeln looked suitably leonine each
night as he stood on the Palazzo del Cinema steps welcoming the famous
(Harrison Ford, Sophia Loren, e caroMichelangelo). And let’s note – re-sustaining
the lion pedal as we play in the new boss - that the opening film was FRIDA
from Julie Taymor, best known for the stage
production of THE LION KING. Coincidence or kismet?
Her biopic of Diego
Rivera’s muse and mistress FridaKahlo roared happily, shaking its aureate locks at a
first-night audience learning that Kahlo
(spitfire-played by Salma Hayek) was a crippled
surrealist who not only loved the Mexican Marxist and mural painter but also
once bed-and-boarded Trotsky (before he got ice-picked). A gala opener as
vivid as this seemed a sampler of the best to come.
Venice began first as a filmfest (1932). Venice is still best at
defining the roots and raisons d’etre of these
junkets. Not for the first time we were reminded that films divide into two
kinds, the timeless and the timely. The timeless take the arslongaroute, shutting out the topical
to pursue the eternal – nowhere more evidently than in two haunting eastern
films with plots culled from the past, Takeshi Kitano’s DOLLS from Japan and TianZhuangzhuang’s SPRINGTIME
IN A SMALL TOWN from China. The timely opts for “Vitabrevis,” saying “Life is short, human drama
lies in today’s headlines.”
was the talking point of the last days, billed as a “film by 11 directors”,
each from a different nation, each taking 11 minutes to present a personal
response to the events of September
11 2001. SamiraMakhmalbaf,
Claude Lelouch, Ken Loach, Mira Nair, Sean Penn and
others put together a momentous mosaic, with barely a dud fragment (though
Israel’s Amos Gitaj and Spain’s Alejandro Inarritu come close, recycling news mayhem rather than
offering new perspective and imagination).
Makhmalbaf’s tale of an exiled Afghan teacher in Iran trying to tutor her
kids in the reality of terrorist horror is a gem. How do you woo the innocent
into world-awareness – and do you destroy that innocence as you do so? Lelouch presents a deaf-dumb New
York girl awakening late to the calamity near her - it plays on
an unheard TV set that’s also unwatched as she pens a love breakup letter.
Loach takes the anti-American watch – surprise! - recalling another Tuesday
September 11th when bombs sponsored by the USA (according to Loach)
tore apart Allende’s palace in Chile. Seeking moral
equivalence, Loach stretches into the ridiculous and the repugnant. Penn
offers the most oblique tale: a grieving widower (Ernest Borgnine)
oblivious to the towers’ fall except for the sunlight their new absence
bestows on a dying vase of flowers.
takes all sorts” may be the stoical messageabout human beings and horror and
political extremism. Thankfully the last word, or hissed-out declamation in
the film, is a little bolder and more uncompromising. It comes from a snake
insisting, in Shohei Imamura’s eerie post-World War
Two fable about a returning soldier who turns into a
serpent, “There is no such thing as a holy war.” Right on.
many – and for me-
the east stole the show at Venice. Kitano’s DOLLS is a
knockout from the Nipponese master who grabbed the 1997 Golden Lion for
HANA-BI. Three stories of tragic women unfold, taken from Japanese puppet
theatre or bunraku. A
jilted fiancee whose ambitious lover threw her over
for a boss’s daughter gets him back, but as a contrite beggar bound to her
with a scarlet cord. They trek through scenes and seasons – from
cherry-blossom spring to blood-red autumn and shroud-white winter – as the
film’s choric punctuation. Elsewhere a girl grows old believing her beloved
will return to the park bench where she daily brings the lunch they used to
share. And a pop singer disfigured in a crash refuses to be seen, but one
besotted fan has the answer: take out his eyes.
Japan’s on-screen answer to Dirty Harry, has kissed goodbye to cops and
robbers and doesn’t appear here himself. But the spirit of his weird Zen
sensibility – all mandarin pacing, moments of freak lyricism, sudden but
stoical reversals of fortune – suffuses this movie. Fate is a brutal
taskmaster which can turn us all into puppets, Kitano seems to say; though
even a puppet must feel privileged to dwell among colours
and images and camera movements as dazzling as these.
13 years, ever since VIOLENT COP, this Japanese director has never been off
the map of world cinema. Contrastingly China’s TianZhuangzhuang returns to directing after ten years
in purdah. THE BLUE KITE, his 1991 tale of a family
torn apart by the Cultural Revolution, got him thrown out the film business
or banished to its fringes. The Beijing authorities hadn’t
liked his earlier New Chinese Cinema classic either, the made-in-Tibet HORSE
THIEF (1985). So Tian has stepped back into
IN A SMALLTOWN is a remake of a
revered post-World War Two Chinese domestic drama. A suspectedly
tubercular husband and his wife are visited in the country by a doctor each
knew in separate phases of their past lives. The wife finds herself falling
in love with him again; the husband senses the growing passion. The story’s subtle reticence, its workings of covert longing and
suppressed grief and fear, crank up to a nearly tragic finale.
politics here, except of the human soul. Tian finds
universality in a tale of marital discord so quiet that we hardly hear the
dissonances, only their after-resonances. Yet we are inside the characters’
heads and hearts throughout, their inner lives made glowing by lighting and
camera movements that seem to illuminate each feeling. Tian’s
cast of first-time movie actors is flawless. So is his flair for making the
quiet speak louder than the mega-decibel. Fabulous filmmaking. If you are a distributor, buy now
while territories last.
Across the Lagoon
Best of the rest? Todd
Haynes’s FAR FROM HEAVEN and Patrice Leconte’s
L’HOMME DU TRAIN. Senzadubbio. We
are in nostalgia paradise with both while also knowing we’re getting
life-lessons about today and tomorrow. Once again: the timeless teamed with
HEAVEN is a
1950s-style women’s melodrama from the rebel pasticheur
of POISON, SAFE and VELVET GOLDMINE. You needn’t know the complete works of
director Douglas Sirk to appreciate it, but it
helps. Haynes lifts the plot of ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955), turning widow
Jane Wyman into suburban homemaker Julianne Moore, all-but-widowed by gay
hubby Dennis Quaid. While he trots after anything
with five-o-clock shadow she swoons for the consoling kindness of gardener
Rock Hudson – oops sorry that’s the original, here it’s black gardener Dennis Haysbert. Their
friendship scandalises the townsfolk even more than Jane and Rock’s did in Sirk’s tale of social ostracism in the New England sticks (which in the
1970s inspired Fassbinder’s FEAR EATS THE SOUL).
Haynes works his
repro-50s style till it sings, dances and does
tricks. Autumn tints luxuriate in soundstage gardens, music surges like Max
Steiner on speed, finny Fords nose through backlot
main streets. And every house, be it ne’er so humble, has a curved white
staircase and black maid. The picture would be a parodic
hoot if the plot didn’t transcend owlish exactitude to give us its own
organically-growing, seriocomic authenticity. Quaid
is superb as the guiltbroken breadwinner, pushed
towards a therapy that offers, says quack James Rebhorn,
“5 to 30 percent chance of complete heterosexual conversion.” (and vice-versa!). Moore looks as if she is an actress from gliannicinquante,
all porcelain cheekbones framed by peekaboo perms.
And the Venice audience knew there was something special, as there was with Sirk, about the way the petitbourgeois
inanition of the flick’s surface is cut through by real emotions gunned into
a real near-hysteria.
Dear old Jean Rochefort.Frenchman extraordinaire. He of the face that launched a thousand laughlines, the hernia that cost a million dollars. Make
that 10 million, or 30. Remember? Cast as Cervantes’ knight, this actor was
ambulanced off his Spanish nag in the first week’s shooting on Terry
Gilliam’s famously aborted Don Quixote pic. Yet his
name in the front credits of Patrice Leconte’s
L’HOMME DU TRAIN (THE MAN FROM THE TRAIN) brought a bastinado of applause at Venice. Forgive! Forget! DimenticareAlmeria!
A grateful Rochefort enchants us for two hours as the villa-dwelling
eccentric and garrulous ex-schoolteacher who offers a roof to initially
unsuspected bank robber Johnny Hallyday, a
de-training stranger who can’t find a local hotel. They meet in a pharmacy;
bond in JR’s fusty home where old family photos stare out at stuffed foxes;
finally synchronise, by perfect karma, their respective ‘operations’. While Hallyday is ripping off the Credit duCentrale, Rochefort is
being ripped open by surgeons. But only one man, to the tragedy of both, gets
The director of
MONSIEUR HIRE, THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND and other Faberge-fine films has
done nothing better. Two ageing codgers contemplate eternity while
confronting the finite acts of their lives. They swap silences and poetry,
talk of love and loss. They even try out each other’s souls and skins, Rochefort inviting a brawl in a bar, Hallyday
taking over a Balzac tutorial. Maybe (the film offers) we are all the same
and only our vanity, our determination to turn ourselves into defining,
demarcating self-portraits, deludes us differently. The film’s colours are
like handtinted postcards, the pace slow but
mesmerising. If Proust had been hired to script a
remake of THE ODD COUPLE, this would be the result.
And then the bells!
The bells across the lagoon!
Engulfed and echoing,
wrapped in water-shimmer, as if from the cathedraleengloutiitself, they tolled for the
movies that half-sank but didn’t quite touch bottom. Brave
curios like Peter Mullan’s THE MAGDALENE
SISTERS, Claire Denis’ VENDREDI SOIR (FRIDAY NIGHT) and Lukas Moodysson’s LILJA 4-EVER. All about women and the
transforming things that happen to them: such as being stuck in an Irish
Catholic reformatory where belt-wielding Sister Geraldine McEwan
screeches at you for being a rape victim or unmarried mum, or being stuck in
a Paris tailback where the steaming cars are phallic predators and you will
meet the one-night stand of your life (beau
travail if you can get it), or being a parentless Russian girl in Sweden
where your jilting lover, a hireling of pimps, has turned you into a trick
for tired businessmen.
Mullan overstates his case in an
anticlerical diatribe with strong feelings but stagy presentation. Denis lets
her engine boil over in a passion play that starts with scalding promise –
the best traffic jam since WEEKEND – but runs sputtery
in tedious cheap-hotel love scenes. Moodysson,
hailed by Ingmar Bergman as the Swede to watch after FUCKING AMAL
(title-bowdlerised outside Sweden as SHOW ME LOVE), wrings our hearts in
early reels but then puts fantasy angels and winged waifs – bad idea! - on the catwalk of his cautionary fairytale about love,
despair and transfiguration.
We also go “Ho
hum” – ten for trying, five for achievement - about two multicultural
morality flicks from Stephen Frears and Agnieska Holland. Holland lights a romantic fire under
itinerant Canadian housewife Miranda Otto and Polish faith healer LothaireBluteau, who’s trying
to de-tumour her son. At same time her hubby’s
leaving her and her dad’s dying, after going picturesquely, religiously nuts.
There are too many subplots, sub-themes and eccentric supporting characters
in this symposium on God, faith, love, trust, life, death, pain, eternity….If
the theme isn’t there, they can probably order it for you by the morning.
In DIRTY PRETTY THINGS
the Brit realist of MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE simmers a tale of human organ marketing
among immigrants working in or around a London hotel. Fancy a secondhand kidney? One previous careful owner?How about a liver? A black comedy with some
wit and some bile, but not quite enough of either.
Never mind. Lots of
heart and art here, with more to come as Venice reached the ninth hole and turned for the
incoming nine. America was there in force. US contenders sloshed around bravely, trying to
score birdies and eagles in this water-veined venue. A few players drowned,
notably Steven Soderbergh with his all-star ‘art
film’ FULL FRONTAL: Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Co in a kind of Godard film that isn’t. But some triumphed, notably Dylan
Kidd with his writing-directing debut RODGER DODGER.
No more than a
talk piece, but what talk. Maybe the best and sauciest since Soderbergh’s own SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE. Motormouthed New York cynic and womaniser
Campbell Scott squires his hayseed Ohio nephew around town during a night’s stayover – actually the youngster’s run away – while
inculcating wisdoms about sexual hunting and gathering. Vicious, funny and
totally on-the-button, the film suffers only from cinematography that hasn’t
eaten enough carrots. Dashed if we can see half the night scenes, though we
certainly enjoy hearing them. The pic won the award
for best first feature.
KEN PARK is Larry
Clark’s latest fresco of alienated American youth. The KIDS director zooms in
on their drug habits and parent troubles, when not zooming in even closer on
the erogenous zones of his, as usual, skimpy-clad teen leads. We get
everything here, from three-way sex to go-the-whole-way male masturbation
with a side order of auto-erotic asphyxiation. Some viewers took smelling
salts to recover. Others queued to re-see it, to make sure they’d seen what
they thought they had seen.
Clint Eastwood and
Harrison Ford, 133 years between them, offered the safer, sounder and many
thought sexier BLOOD WORK and K-19 THE WIDOWMAKER. Ford was cheered to the ecco-
“EccoHarrison! EccoIndiana! Ecco
Han Solo!” - when
he de-limo’d to attend the gala showing of his
stirring submarine flick. Clint was adoringly applauded on his first screen
appearance, that spiky greyhairedphiz still looking taut and actionworthy
at an age when some most men are ordering their zimmer
Tom Hanks also
strolled into town, though ROAD TO PERDITION was given a more muted welcome.
A Catholic country wondered what had happened to all the Catholic stuff in
the original graphic novel. What about the father’s trips to confession
(someone asked at the press confab)? What about the boy’s becoming a priest?
Now all we’ve got – though it was more than enough for many – is BILLY
BATHGATE crossed with MILLER’S CROSSING.
The sneakiest hit
American was John Malkovich, appearing in an
Italian-directed movie that continued that disconcerting European tradition:
Making Tom Ripley Movies Better Than The USA Does. Rene Clement’s PLEIN SOLEIL
(PURPLE NOON). WimWenders’s THE AMERICAN FRIEND. And now –
adapting the same Patricia Highsmith novel that Wenders dramatised but keeping the book’s title – LilianaCavani’s RIPLEY’S GAME.
And he is: very game
in Malkovich’s fetid, faintly epicene sociopath,
nosing drolly around Northern Italy and Berlin in search of art treasures to steal and people to kill. He isn’t my
idea of Ripley, too old and too bald. But he is very tickling, not least when
murmuring “It never used to be this crowded in first class” as corpses pile
up in a train washroom, or saying “These Balkans tend to take strangling so
seriously” on hearing that a hitman is after him
for some south-east Europe murders.
The Lion King
And the winners are:
Golden Lion for Best Film to Peter Mullan’s
THE MAGDALENE SISTERS. (Oh dear, well Gong Li’s jury certainly wasn’t with me
on this gong, though Mullan may be a good bet for
future filmic goodies and guerdons). Grand Jury Prize to Andre Konchalovsky’s HOUSE OF FOOLS. (Can the jury offer an
insanity plea? As Russian dramas about life-as-a-lunatic-asylum go this is
among the loudest and loopiest, with special singing appearances by famous
Slavic songbird Bryan Adams.)
Best Actress to Julianne Moore for FAR FROM HEAVEN.
(Excellent choice. Well done, Clarice. How about some Chianti?). Best Actor
to Stefano Accorsi for the Italian film A JOURNEY
CALLED LOVE. (Nice journey, nice performance. But what
about Jean Rochefort in L’HOMME DU TRAIN?) Outstanding Individual Contribution to cinematographer Ed Lachman for his spiffing work
on FAR FROM HEAVEN. (He also lensed and co-directed
KEN PARK). San Marco prize for Best Film in the noncompetitive ‘Upstream’ programme – and now
let’s bring on the dancing girls – SPRINGTIME IN A SMALLTOWN. TianZhuangzhuang, great imagemaster,
the world is yours again. Or ought to be. If not I’m coming over to China to sort things out.
Take Me to Your Lido
So the festival wound
down. Except that it didn’t. For of course a festivalalways winds up as it approaches the close: winds up to those clamorous
end-of-event questions that always get asked such as “What about next year?
Who’s gonna be in charge? Will Venice still be Venice? Are there political
infighting and bureaucratic imbroglio still for tea?”
Three things we can be
sure of in this life. The Earth is round, as an Italian once proved. It goes
round the sun, as another Italian proved. And art and movies are here
forever, as any number of Italians have proved, from the Michelangelo who did
a famous paint job on the Vatican to that later Michelangelo who made Venice
grateful in 2002 for his films, his past, his presence, and his longevity.
To you, great lion, I
tip my glass of Bellini, saying thank you for all
that you have given us. To you, Oaltroleone, Moritz
de Hadeln, I tip my glass a second time, for all that you will
give us, Film Festival machinations willing, in years to come.
Bring me my gondola.
TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD FILM.