by Roderick Conway Morris

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'More Space for Right-Wing Auteurs!'

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 30 August 1995


No film festival is complete without its associateddramas, and Venice has provided its usual crop this year.Hardly had the last licks of paint been applied to the Palazzo del Cinema, the purpose-built,multiscreen pile on the Lido -- completing a lavish refurbishment and modernization to mark the 100th anniversary of the Venice Biennale, which instituted the film festival during the Mussolini era -- than an intruder broke in at night and daubed the walls with such slogans as: 'Reds Out of Cinema!' and 'More Space for Right-Wing Auteurs!!'

Franco Zeffirelli, ensconced in his villa on the Amalfi coast and in possession ofa cast-iron alibi, added his usual blast against the festival, declaring it hopelessly in the hands of the left and an 'absolutely useless event' --an annual anathema that is beginning to seem almost as oldas the festival itself.

The city's gondoliers, meanwhile, in their continuingprotests against the hazardous and destructive wash caused by speeding motorized traffic on thecanals, threatened to block key navigable channels with their boats, thereby preventing the film folk and VIP launches from reaching the Lido.

Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, stars of the son-of-Red October underwater thriller, 'Crimson Tide,' seemed set to try to bust the gondoliers' blockade on a publicity-stunt voyage to the Lido by submarine (courtesy of the Italian Navy), a plan,however, in danger of foundering in the shallows of the lagoon.

The choice of an American blockbuster to inaugurate the proceedings, which beginWednesday and end with the presentation of the Golden Lion awardon Sept. 9,would have been unimaginable beforeGillo Pontecorvo took the helm as artistic director in 1992. More commercial U.S. films than ever are to be shown here this year -- giving many of them their first European screenings --and the Venetian Nights out-of-competitionsectionincludes 'Waterworld,' 'Apollo 13,' 'Dolores Claiborne,''Brave-heart'and 'Jade.'

Achorusof discontent in the Italian film establishment has been accusing Pontecorvo of going too far in this respect, but the76-year-old director was unrepentant in an interview on the eve of the festival.

Whereas three years ago Pontecorvo was traveling to America virtually cap in hand to persuade directors to sendproductions to Venice, nowadays they appear to be liningup. And with the films, the stars, too, have returned to the Lido. Apart from the 'Crimson Tide' crew and such regularsas Woody Allen and Jack Nicholson, Spike Lee, Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Jennifer JasonLeigh, Isabelle Huppert, Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter and other leading lights are scheduled to be here.

'Venice is still regarded as the leading festival of auteur cinema,' said Pontecorvo, 'but it needs to be realistic. And, of course, it's exactly because I was afraid that Venice was becoming too rarefied that I've tried to bring some of the glamour of popular cinema back again. This aspect of filmmaking doesn't interest me personally very much, but it's certainly had one result in that we've had to call in five times as many police because there are so many more people coming to the festival now.'

There are 17 in-competition films (seven of which aretheir director'sfirst or second productions), including Claude Chabrol's 'La Cérémonie,' Lee's 'Clockers,' Sean Penn's 'The Crossing Guard' andBranagh's 'In the Bleak Midwinter.'

A curious recrossing of ways is represented by two of the three Italian films in this section: Ettore Scola's 'Diario di un giovane povero' (Dairy of a Poor Young Man) and Giuseppe Tornatore's 'L'uomo delle stelle' (Man of Stars). Seven years ago, both directors brought out stories revolving around the death of classic, old-style cinema culture, Tornatore's overrated tear-jerker 'Nuovo Cinema Paradiso,' starring Philippe Noiret, which won an Oscar, eclipsing Scola's more subtle'Splendor,'starring Marcello Mastroianni and Massimo Troisi.

Ironically, if Pontecorvo's prognostications are correct, unprecedented artistic license in Russia has had a deleterious effect on the quality of the country's film industry --the only production emanating from the former Soviet Uniondeemed significant enough to appear in competition being the low-budget 'Cardiogram' by Darezhan Omirbaevfrom Kazakhstan. Chinese productions, which have consistently won prizes in recent years, are equally notable for their sudden absence, but otherwise, the net has been cast widely, gathering in candidates from Cuba, Mexico, Portugal, Ireland, Germany, Japan andVietnam.

'I'd say that finding really worthy films this year was more difficult than ever, not only for Venice, but also for Cannes and Berlin, because the general level has been lower. I've talked to directors of other major festivals during the year, and all of them seem to have had the same problem.

'Some are very pessimistic, saying that the negative effects of television, the barbarization of public taste, is consistently getting worse all the time. Others say not: that films are like wine, and there are good and bad years. I suppose I fall somewhere in between.'

As ever there are filmmakers who are mightily miffed at not being shown in competition and, conversely, those whohave made it a condition not to be entered for the awards. The former include the Italian directors Daniele Cipri and Franco Maresco, whose surrealist Sicilian fantasy 'Lo zio di Brooklyn' (The Uncle From Brooklyn) has been withdrawn altogether,having failed to make the in-competition list; and the latter,Allen--whose 'Mighty Aphrodite' is to be premiered in an exclusive two-film only out-of-competition category along with indomitable 83-year-old Michel-angelo Antonioni (deprived by illness of the power of speech nearly 10 years ago) and co-director Wim Wenders's'Beyond the Clouds'--and Kathryn Bigelow.Her 'Strange Days' is to be shown in the Venetian Nights section.

Pontecorvo refused to be drawn on how long he would remain as artistic director. But having been initially recruited to shake up thefestival, there can be no doubt that he has come to see his positionas an important redoubt in the defense of what is left of the cinematic world he grew up in.

'The flood, the avalanche of images to which we are now subjected has created a disastrous reduction in our capacity to concentrate and reflect on what we see,' he said. 'Let's hope that this trend can somehow be reversed.

'And, in fact, I believe that in the audiovisual realm the antidote can only be found in cinema --and it's time that cinema stood its ground and showed that film can, if only occasionally, achieve the status of art.'

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2024