by Roderick Conway Morris

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Venice Gears Up For 67th Film Festival

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 1 September 2010


The new Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido, to replace the one built in the 1930s for the world's oldest international film festival, was due to be unveiled in 2011, its inauguration planned to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. But the discovery of a dump of asbestos during the excavation of the site has delayed the projected opening of the multi-screen Palazzo until 2012.

So an area still under construction will again be looming over Venice's 67th film festival, which opens Wednesday evening and continues through Sept. 11.

In any case, as the locals lost no time in pointing out, Venice and the Veneto did not join the Kingdom of Italy until 1866, after the so-called Third War of Independence against the Hapsburg Empire.

But Marco Müller, now in his seventh year as artistic director, appears to be flying his colors as one of the 'Italianissimi,' as the patriots were dubbed in the 19th century. He has put 41 Italian productions in the festival's four official sections - nearly twice the 22 of last year - which include a 'Controcampo Italiano' list of notionally avant-garde home-grown movies, and a sidebar retrospective of Italian comedies from the 1930s to 1980s.

Last year the only Italian film to receive a prize from the Golden Lion jury was the well-merited Coppa Volpi for best actress that Ksenia Rappoport won for her role in Giuseppe Capotondi's psychological crime thriller 'La doppia ora' (The Double Hour), outstandingly the best of the host country's contemporary movies at that festival.

This year there are four Italian films in competition: 'La pecora nera' (The Black Sheep), a first feature by Ascanio Celestini; 'La solitudine dei numeri primi' (The Solitude of Prime Numbers), based on Paolo Giordano's best-selling novel, directed by Saverio Costanzo; 'Noi credevamo' (We Used to Believe), an epic directed by Mario Martone that relates the struggle for the peninsula's self-determination through the eyes of a group of young idealists; and 'La Passione' (The Passion), a comedy directed by the inventive Carlo Mazzacurati about a desperate, out-of-work film director who finds himself bamboozled into directing a village Passion Play. Mr. Mazzacurati won a Silver Lion in 1994 for 'The Bull.'

There will be 79 world premieres in the four official sections, chosen from 2,395 feature films from 102 countries - there were 74 in 2009 - with 34 countries making the final lists, up from 27 last year. The biggest non-Italian contingent is from the United States, with 19 productions, promising the presence of a number of big-names on the Lido.

Darren Aronofsky's 'Black Swan,' a melodrama set in the world of ballet, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as two rival dancers, will be the opening in-competition film. Mr. Aronofsky's new-agey 'The Fountain' went down like a lead balloon here in 2006, but the great clunking fist of the revived Mickey Rourkeapparently persuaded the director to lick his wounds and return to Venice two years later with 'The Wrestler,' which scooped the Golden Lion to the dismay of those who felt Marco Bechis's more challenging and original 'Birdwatchers' deserved the prize.

The other U.S. productions vying for the Golden Lion are: 'Somewhere' by Sofia Coppola, whose 'Lost in Translation' in the Countercurrents category was a hit in Venice seven years ago; the indie director Monte Hellman's 'Road to Nowhere'; Kelly Reichardt's 'Meek's Cutoff'; and Julian Schnabel's 'Miral.'

Richard J. Lewis's adaptation of Mordechai Richler's 'Barney's Version,' with a cast led by Dustin Hoffman, is billed as a joint Canadian-Italian production.

France is represented in-competition by Antony Cordier's 'Happy Few'; Abdellatif Kechiche's 'Venus Noire'; and François Ozon's 'Potiche,' with Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu.

From Japan come Takashi Miike's '13 Assassins' and 'Norwegian Wood,' an adaptation of Haruki Murakami's novel directed by the Vietnam-born Anh Hung Tran, whose 'Cyclo' won the Golden Lion in 1995.

Of China's seven films across the various categories, only one is in competition: Tsui Hark's 'Dr. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.' The remaining competitors are from Chile, Germany, Greece, Poland, Russia and Spain, and an additional 'surprise film' to be announced next week.

The opening out-of-competition film will be Andrew Lau's 'The Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen,' inspired by a television series and Bruce Lee's 1972 'Fist of Fury,' marking the 70th anniversary of the kung-fu star's birth. The midnight out-of-competition opener will be a romantic action movie, 'Machete,'Robert Rodriguez's tale of 'a legendary ex-federale with a deadly attitude' and his personal battle against a Mexican drug baron.

Next year marks the 400th anniversary of the first performance of Shakespeare's 'Tempest.' A decade after her film version of the bard's 'Titus Andronicus,' Julie Taymor revisits Prospero's isle in her out-of-competition 'The Tempest,' which will close the festival and which features Helen Mirren as the magician, transmogrified into Prospera.

Mr. Müller has pointed out that at 47 the average age of the directors at Venice this year is lower than ever, though the oldest, Monte Hellman, is 78. The youthful profile has certainly been statistically aided by the omission of the 101-year-old Portuguese director Manoel di Oliviera, whose films have appeared year in and year out on the Lido under successive artistic directors regardless of their quality.

The 'Orizzonti' (Horizons) category has been thrown open to a vast range of productions, including documentaries, animations, medium-length and short films. Both the Affleck brothers will appear here: Ben with a full-length feature, 'The Town,' and Casey with a documentary about the actor Joaquin Phoenix. Mani Ratman of India has the distinction of having two versions of the same story in this section, 'Ravavan' in Hindi and 'Raavanan' in Tamil.

With 21 features and nearly 50 other films of varying durations, the president of the Horizons jury, Shirin Neshat, who won a Silver Lion last year for 'Women Without Men,' and her colleagues will have their work cut out in assigning prizes.

Quentin Tarantino, who made a guest appearance in Mr. Takashi's barmy but enjoyable 'Sukiyaki Western Django' three years ago, is president of the Golden Lion jury this year.

Fatih Akin is the president of the jury that awards the Luigi de Laurentiis debut film award, which brings with it $100,000 to be divided equally between the director and producer. Samuel Maoz, whose first-feature 'Lebanon' won the Golden Lion last year, is also on that jury.

Mr. Akin's splendid 'Soul Kitchen' won the Special Jury Prize last year, a notable achievement given that comedies, even ones as intelligent, diverting and deftly made as 'Soul Kitchen,' very rarely carry trophies away from the major festivals.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023