by Roderick Conway Morris

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Tours de force and Turkeys

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 6 September 2000


Outstandingly original in both conception and realization among the works appearing in competition at the Venice film festival so far is Clara Law's 'The Goddess of 1967,' co-written with her husband, Eddie Fong.

The Goddess in question is a 1960s Citroen DS (familiarly known as the 'deesse,' which also means 'goddess' in French) that a young Japanese salaryman, J.M., goes to Australia to buy after

finding it for sale on the Internet. When J.M. (Rikiya Kurokawa) arrives, he finds the seller no longer in a position to clinch the deal and a mysterious blind girl, B.G. (Rose Byrne), who offers to take him to meet the real owner, if he will drive them both in the Goddess on the five-day trip into the interior to find him.

Both J.M. and B.G. are alienated souls harboring dark secrets, the former trying to leave behind the traumatic loss of a friend and the latter determined to confront and avenge the wrongs to which she has previously been subjected.

They appear to have nothing in common, let alone a shared purpose and at first are barely able to communicate even at the simplest level. But their odyssey into the almost peopleless landscape of the outback stimulates an unspoken, unstable alliance. The cinematic techniques used to reflect B.G.'s constant struggle to orient herself in her sightless world are innovative and inventive, and the growing sense of suspense as the denouement approaches artfully handled. The direction and acting are excellent, and Byrne's mesmerizing performance as B.G. brilliantly inflected and unpredictable.

More conventional in form, but of an equally high quality among works not in competition, is the Belgian writer-director Dominique Deruddere's 'Iedereen Beroemd!' (Everybody Famous!). This is a devastatingly accurate, painfully funny, but oddly humane exposure of the trashiness of contemporary television and the popular obsessions with money and the celebrity it fuels.

The story's hapless antihero is Jean Vereecken (Josse De Pauw), a laid-off 44-year-old factory worker with aspirations to compose pop songs based on recordings of his own tuneless humming, who is also convinced that his sulky, overweight teenage daughter Marva (Eva Van der Gucht), an invariable flop at the two-bit singing contests they frequent, has the talent to make it to the top. In an attempt to blackmail the TV music producers to give Marva a break, Jean kidnaps the country's top pop star, Debbie (Thekla Reuten), triggering a drama that is at once utterly fantastic and horribly, hilariously plausible.

Just as Aldous Huxley's death passed almost unnoticed, coinciding as it did with the assassination of John Kennedy, the killing of the Sicilian anti-mafia campaigner Peppino Impastato in 1978 was obscured by the discovery the same morning of the corpse of Aldo Moro, after his kidnapping by the Red Brigades.

Impastato was born into a family with mafia connections in 1948, so his decision in 1976 to start a local radio station that set about denouncing and ridiculing the mob in a series of satirical skits was fraught with personal implications and doubly dangerous given Impastato's intimate knowledge of his targets.

Marco Tullio Giordana's in-competition 'I Cento Passi' (The Hundred Steps) gives an engaging portrait of this prodigiously energetic and complex figure, convincingly re-creating the heady atmosphere of the numbered days of his crusade and the sense of liberation and even wild fun it brought to those that dared to join it. This is an inspiring, if tragic, story which, thanks to Giordana's considerable skills as a filmmaker, should now reach an international audience, and bring some comfort to Peppino's courageous mother and brother, who cooperated with the project, and are still pressing for Impastato's murderers to be brought to justice.

The prize for Most Revolting Film In-Competition was already being hotly contested during the first days of the festival by the Italian Gabriele Salvatores's 'Denti' (Teeth), which is dominated by a series of graphic tooth-smashing incidents and blood-spattered visits to deranged dentists, and the Korean Ki Duk Kim's 'Seom' (The Isle), in which, to mention but one repulsive scene, a character tries to commit suicide by swallowing a cluster of fish hooks. (After two nauseated members of the audience had to be helped out of the auditorium at the press screening, the Korean film seemed to be in the lead.)

The most numbingly boring in-competition film so far, was 'Palavra e Utopia' (Word and Utopia) by the 91-year-old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, the perpetrator of an equally somniferous production, 'The Party,' a couple of years ago.

Raoul Ruiz's 'Commedie d'Innocence' (Comedy of Innocence) had potential as an intriguing tale of a young child who suddenly starts maintaining that he is a changeling and wishes to return to his 'real' mother, but one's sympathies were severely undermined by the prissy obnoxiousness of the little brat and the privileged, frigid, self-centered egotism of the adults, which made it difficult to sustain any interest in their fate. Claude Chabrol's out-of-competition 'Merci pour le chocolat' (appearing with the English title 'Nightcap') shared the same rarefied upper-class milieu, as well as Isabelle Huppert as leading lady, and foundered on thin plotting and a meandering pace.

Robert Altman's in-competition 'Dr. T. and the Women' was entertaining in parts, but by no means up to the standards of 'Short Cuts,' which won the Golden Lion in 1993. Also in competition was Sally Potter's 'The Man Who Cried,' a from-the-shtetl-to-Hollywood saga, which purports to deal with the persecution of Jews and Gypsies, but which turned out to be an egregious display of schmaltzy schlock -- its only saving grace being a bravura performance by Cate Blanchett as a tragicomic Russian dancer and only intermittently successful gold digger.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023