by Roderick Conway Morris

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Venice Festival Won't Shun the Hollywood Glitz

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE, Italy 27 August 1997


While the long-awaited and much-needed reform of the Venice Biennale, which runs the Film Festival, remains stuck in that state of suspended animation that movie folk like to term 'in development', Felice Laudadio - film critic and for nearly 20 years curator of filmfests in Italy and Latin America (and organizer since 1991 of the Italian and European sections of the Palm Springs Film Festival) - was appointed somewhat late in the day as the new maestro charged with the task of orchestrating this year's event.

The impression that Laudadio's principal agenda was to make the Venice Festival, which opens on August 27 and continues until September 6, once again a strictly art affair, hinted at by his own recent remarks that he would not be arranging 'a Festival for photographers', was vigorously disclaimed by Laudadio in an interview at the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido.

'It's true that I'm not interested in names for names' sake, but this does not mean a return to art cinema. As far as I'm concerned, there simply are good films, mediocre films and bad films. Moderately good films with stars in them usually stand a strong chance of getting into festivals. But what I've tried to do is to choose on the basis of quality alone, regardless of whether the directors or actors are well-known,' he said. 'Also, all the films in competition are genuine world premiers, and in fact, with very few exceptions, so are the ones in the other sections.'

American films are given less prominence than in the recent years of Gillo Pontecorvo's stewardship, when Venice became a launchpad for their European distribution, although Woody Allen's out-of-competition 'Deconstructing Harry' will open the Festival, and there are two US productions in competition: 'One-Night Stand', directed by British-born Mike Figgis (whose previous films include 'The Browning Version' and 'Leaving Las Vegas'), starring Wesley Snipes as Max, a settled, prosperous, happily-married man, whose unexpected and fleeting fling with Karen (Nastassja Kinski), throws his life into turmoil; and Bob Gosse's 'Niagara, Niagara', the tale of two teenage misfits, Seth, a petty thief (Henry Thomas) and Mary (Robin Tunney), a frequently inebriated invalid, who set off to find a rare doll in Toronto.

Seven other US films, including the already mega-earning 'Air Force One' (which has yet to open in Europe), Paul Schrader's 'Affliction', Guillermo Del Toro's 'Mimic' and Joe Dante's 'The Second Civil War', are scheduled for Mezzanotte (Midnight) and Mezzogiorno (Midday) slots, holding out the promise that, despite Venice's change of direction, the likes of Harrison Ford, Nick Nolte, Mira Sorvino and James Coburn will take the trouble to appear in person.

Gerard Depardieu and Alida Valli (veteran star of Carol Reed's 'The Third Man' and Visconti's 'Senso') will be coming to receive lifetime achievement Golden Lions, while the one for Stanley Kubrick, who is presently immersed in making 'Eyes Wide Shut', will be collected by Nicole Kidman at a showing of 'Clockwork Orange', which Warners are hoping to return to general release.

The section reserved for Italian films, two of which are in competition, has been scrapped by Laudadio, who said: ' If there had been eight or ten really good ones available, I would have retained it. But, while a festival can be a great trampoline to launch a film, to push a not particularly accomplished one, even by a talented director, does nobody any favors.' There is, however, a special British Renaissance grouping, showcasing seven of the latest UK offerings, among them Brian Gilbert's 'Wilde' and Iain Softely's 'The Wings of a Dove'. (Alan Rickman's debut as a director, 'The Winter Guest', with Emma Thompson and Phyllida Law, will appear in competition).

Zhang Yimou's 'Keep Cool', described as 'a humorous take on changing relationships between today's urban Chinese', which was blocked by the Bejing authorities from showing at Cannes, will also (barring last-minute hitches) join the in-competition line-up, along with the joint Hong Kong-China-produced scenario, set against the hand-over of the colony, 'Chinese Box' directed by Wayne Wang (whose previous hits include 'Dim Sum' and 'Smoke'), starring Jeremy Irons as a terminally-ill English journalist and Gong Li as 'a reformed hostess'. Japan is represented by Takeshi Kitano's 'Hana-Bi', a story of two retired cops and their strangely-arrived-at embroilment with a 'yakuza'.

Terrorism provides the theme for the Irish entry 'The Informant', directed by New York -born Jim McBride (maker of 'The Big Easy'), and for 'A Ciegas' (Blinded) by the young Spanish director, Daniel Calpasoro. Films from Brazil, France, Poland, Russia and the Belgian 'Combat de Fauves', with Richard Bohringer and Ute Lemper, are also in the running for prizes.

Laudadio's attempts to set up a film market a la Cannes at Venice foundered this year through lack of time and opposition from some in the Italian movie sales business. 'Some of them have objected to the Festival taking on this new role, saying Venice should remain 'pure' and not soil itself with commerce. And this is coming from the merchants. It's astonishing!' he said.

'I've seen well over 300 films and had to chose 60 or so. But there were at least the same number again that were perfectly suitable for showing at Venice, but in which I saw some kind of shortcoming - or was maybe just mistaken not to choose,' said Laudadio. 'These would certainly have been given a chance if I'd managed to organize the market. Venice could do much more to help films of good quality. After all, films can sometimes be art, but they are also a commodity that has to be bought and sold. And if I'm reappointed to run the Festival next year, I am absolutely determined to get the Venice market off the ground.'

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023