by Roderick Conway Morris

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Eastwood Rides In A Hero In Venice

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 30 August 2000


The Man With No Name rode into town, this time in a water-taxi; and not to garner some grief from the local punks and gunslingers, but to receive a Golden Lion for career achievement from the perfectly manicured hands of Sharon Stone.

A generation ago the idea of the star of such nakedly commercial enterprises as Sergio Leone's 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' being feted at Venice would have been unthinkable. But the whirligig of time brings in its revenges, and apart from receiving the award, Clint Eastwood's career will be the subject of an extensive retrospective (including screenings of the television show 'Rawhide').

And his latest movie as star, director and producer, 'Space Cowboys' -- a post-Cold War Mission Improbable in which a team of aging would-have-been astronauts come out of retirement to rescue a crippled Russian satellite -- will open the festival, which starts Wednesday and runs until Sept. 9.

The following day, the star will conduct a 'seminar-colloquium,' led by a pair of film buffs who have written a special edition of the art-house vade mecum Les Cahiers du Cinema devoted to the man and his work. (O Sergio, had'st thou but liv'd to see this hour!)

This highbrow occasion will be free of charge, whereas fans who wish to dine with, or at least breathe the air in the vicinity of, Stone at a glitzy AIDS benefit banquet the same evening will have to shell out dollars 20,000 to dollars 50,000 for the privilege.

Given the noticeable drop in the number of new U.S. blockbusters in the out-of-competition race and other categories this year, bagging Eastwood and Stone was a canny move on the part of Alberto Barbera, who is back for a second year as artistic director of the festival.

Barbera attributes the U.S. shortfall to the narrowing of the time gap between the release of commercial productions in the United States and Europe -- partly the result of the advent of digital video disks -- which has reduced Venice's appeal as a European launching pad for big-budget movies. (An exception is Robert Zemeckis's 'What Lies Beneath,' which promises to bring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer back to the Lido.)

The star quotient at the festival also looks set to be buoyed by the entrance in competition of Robert Altman's 'Dr. T and the Women' ('My love letter to the women of Dallas, Texas,' in the director's words), in which Richard Gere plays an excessively popular gynecologist (it had to happen), heading a cast that includes Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern and Liv Tyler, all of whom are billed to appear in person.

Also in competition is Sally Potter's 'The Man Who Cried' and Julian Schnabel's 'Before Night Falls,' both featuring Johnny Depp, whose attendance is thereby, it seems, guaranteed.

An ever-loyal Woody Allen will be premiering out-of-competition his latest, 'Small Time Crooks,' in which he stars as 'an ex-con dishwasher,' with Tracey Ullman as his wife, whose initial success at pulling off a mega-caper proves to be the beginning rather than the end of their problems. As always, Allen will be there in spirit rather than person, but the cast member Hugh Grant is expected.

Also out of competition will be 'Brother' by Takeshi Kitano, winner of the Golden Lion in 1997 for 'Hana-Bi,' who will be here to present this gangster movie set in L.A., the first that Kitano has made outside Japan. In the same category, Claude Chabrol will be premiering 'Merci pour la chocolat' (Thanks for the Chocolate) starring Isabelle Huppert, who also plays a lead in Raoul Ruiz's 'Fils de deux meres ou comedie de l'innocence' (Son of Two Mothers, or Comedy of Innocence). Huppert will form part of the French delegation, along with Nathalie Baye, winner of last year's best actress award, and now appearing in Xavier Beauvois's in-competition 'Selon Matthieu' (According to Matthew).

Having been comprehensively snubbed at Cannes this year, Italian films constitute 4 of the 20 in competition -- as many as the U.S. and British contributions put together. Barbera has defended this high proportion on the grounds that, although Italian cinema generally has been in the doldrums for some time, he has detected a genuine upsurge in quality. (For all the generous state subsidies that are lavished on filmmakers here, audiences have continued to vote with their feet -- with U.S. products grossing nearly four and a half times as much at the box office than local features over the past year.)

This season's in-competition hopefuls comprise: Guido Chiesa's 'Il partigiano Johnny' (The Partisan Johnny) set during the last year of World War II in northern Italy; Marco Tullio Giordano's real life story of the young Sicilian journalist Peppino Impastato's stand against the mafia and his murder on the orders of the mob boss Gaetano Badalamenti -- the film's title, 'I cento passi' (The Hundred Paces) refers to the distance between Impastato and Badalamenti's homes. The unpunished crime was officially recorded, with a certain macabre suggestiveness, as 'suicide.'

In-competition candidates also include Carlo Mazzacurati's 'La lingua del Santo' (The Tongue of the Saint), the picturesque tale of a couple of losers on the inexorable downslide in Padua, resting place of St. Anthony, who, it seems, takes part in the action; and 'Denti' (Teeth) by Gabriele Salvatores (winner of the Oscar for best foreign film in 1992 for 'Mediterraneo'), which, judging by the advance blurb, should be as witty and amusing about people with dental problems as Zhang Yimou's excruciating 'Keep Cool' was about those with speech impediments.

Rather more intriguing among the in-competition candidates, on the face of it at least, is Fruit Chan's 'Liulian Piao Piao' (Durian Durian), in which this reputedly scrumptious but spiky and foul-smelling tropical comestible is employed with intent to cause actual bodily harm in Hong Kong's seedy Portland Street red-light district.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2024