by Roderick Conway Morris

| | | | | | | | | | | | |

World's Oldest Cinematic Fest Turns 80

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 29 August 2012


The 69th edition of the Venice Film Festival, the oldest international festival of its kind, is actually celebrating its 80th birthday this year, with 18 films vying for the Golden Lion.

The festival, which opens Wednesday and runs through Sept. 8, was originally a biennial event and was suspended during World War II and again in the 1970s because of political turmoil.

In 1932, when the first festival took place, nine countries participated; this year there will be 41. The feature films screened at the first event on the Lido numbered 25 (a third were from Hollywood); this year there will be 55 (12 of them from the United States).

The artistic director of the event, Alberto Barbera, who is returning to Venice more than a decade after his last term here, has reduced the number of films this year in the hope that those selected in the three main categories - in-competition, out-of-competition and Horizons, which aims to showcase emerging talent and innovative filmmaking - will be seen by the greatest number of festival goers.

The grand plans for a brand new Palazzo del Cinema have not so much been shelved as buried: The enormous hole next to the old Palazzo del Cinema where it was to have been, and which has greeted visitors for the past three years, has been filled in and paved over. On a more modest site to one side of the Casinï will rise the less ambitious Palazzetto del Cinema, which will have a main screen with seating for 700 and five smaller ones, each with 50 seats. There is also a project to remodel the cavernous spaces of the old 1930s Casinï to provide badly needed extra screening capacity.

The opening film will be 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist,' a post-9/11 drama directed by Mira Nair, which will be shown out of competition on Wednesday night. Ms. Nair's film 'Monsoon Wedding' won the Golden Lion in 2001, during Mr. Barbera's previous era as director. The closing film will be 'L'homme qui rit,' by Jean-Pierre Améris and starring Gérard Depardieu, based on the Victor Hugo novel.

Mr. Barbera and his team viewed 3,231 films, of which 1,459 were full-length features.

There are five American directors in competition: Paul Thomas Anderson, Ramin Bahrani, Brian de Palma, Harmony Korine and Terrence Malick. A remake of Alain Corneau's 'Crime d'amour,' Mr. de Palma's 'Passion' is a French-German co-production. There are three Italian films, two from France and one each from Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Israel, Japan, the Philippines, Russia and South Korea (although some of these are international joint productions).

Mr. Malick won the Palme d'Or at Cannes for 'The Tree of Life' last year. His new movie 'To the Wonder' revolves around a love triangle and stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Olga Kurylenko. In 'The Master' Paul Thomas Anderson ('Magnolia,' 'There Will Be Blood') directs Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in a story about a troubled young man who strikes up a relationship with the founder of a cult that bears more than a passing resemblance to Scientology.

Valeria Sarmiento, the widow of the prolific Chilean filmmaker Raoul Ruiz, who died last year, has brought to fruition his project to make a historical feature set during Napoleon's invasion of Portugal. 'Linhas de Wellington' (The Lines of Wellington), appears in competition and stars John Malkovich, who played the title role in the late director's 'Klimt' (2006), as the British commander.

The Japanese director Takeshi Kitano, who won the Golden Lion for 'Hana-bi' (Fireworks) in 1997 and a Silver Lion for 'Zatoichi' in 2003, is back in competition with 'Outrage Beyond,' a sequel to his yakuza drama 'Outrage' (2010).

There are two Chinese features this year, down from six last year, and three from Japan.

In the out-of-competition list, Pierce Brosnan stars in Susanne Bier's 'Den Skaldede Frisor' (Love Is All You Need), billed as a romantic comedy about two Danish families who come together for a wedding in Sorrento. Ms. Bier's 'In a Better World' won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2011.

Robert Redford directs and stars in 'The Company You Keep,' with a cast that includes Julie Christie, Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon. In this thriller based on the novel by Neil Gordon, Mr. Redford plays a wanted member of the revolutionary Weathermen who has been living under an assumed name and who goes on the run when an investigative journalist (Shia LaBeouf) discovers his true identity.

The Horizons category includes works from two nations new to Venice: Nepal and Saudi Arabia. The premieres of 10 Horizons movies and 13 short films will also be available simultaneously via the Web to a virtual audience of up 500 viewers on a one-view basis for a payment of €4.20, or $5.25, per feature film or two shorts.

The president of the Golden Lion jury this year will be the director, screenwriter and producer Michael Mann ('The Aviator,' 'Collateral'). His daughter Ami Canaan Mann's debut feature 'Texas Killing Fields' premiered in competition at Venice last year. The jury of nine includes the actors Laetitia Casta and Samantha Morton, five directors and a performance artist.

As previously in Berlin and Cannes there will be a symbolic empty chair on the jury reserved for the Iranian director Jafar Panahi, whose 'Dayereh' (The Circle) won the Golden Lion in 2000. Mr. Panahi was condemned to six years imprisonment in Iran and forbidden to make films for 20 years on charges that he acted against national security and created propaganda against the regime.

Mr. Barbera has also combed the Biennale's archive of films shown at the festival since the 1930s. Out of this has come this year's '80!' retrospective.

'When we went through the list we discovered that quite a few of them were very rare, longer versions than other existing copies and some of them unique. So we selected 10 of these to put into digital form to bring back to contemporary audiences,' he said.

'One of them, for example, was Renato Castellani's 'Il Brigante' (The Brigand) from 1961,' he said. 'This is 34 minutes longer than the version that was screened commercially, so we've been able to reconstruct what we would call today the director's cut, and this is the only surviving copy of it.

'Free at Last,' a documentary made in cinema verité style following Martin Luther King's march on Washington in 1968, was shot on Ektachrome reversal film, he said, which does not have a negative. 'So our restored version is from absolutely the only copy in existence.'

There are also films from France, Spain and Russia, and from Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and Chile in the '70s taken from only known copies.

'Genghis Khan,' made in 1950, was the first color film made in the Philippines. It was also the first Philippine movie to be shown in the West, but it subsequently disappeared. It has taken on a mythical status since then and was thought to be entirely lost until this copy was found.

Venezia Classici, a second category of restored films from other sources, is projected to become an annual feature. The list this year consists of 19 feature films from around the world and 9 documentaries.

Mr. Barbera said he was particularly pleased to be able to show the full 216-minute version of Michael Cimino's 1980 film 'Heaven's Gate,' about strife between cattle barons and immigrant settlers in the American West. The cast includes Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Walken.

The film's vices and virtues are still controversial. It was shown at Cannes and Venice but then cut to 145 minutes, Mr. Barbera said. 'It's been restored by Criterion under the supervision of the director for a Blue-ray edition.

'He's one of the world's great filmmakers but hasn't been able to make a film since 1998,' he said. 'Michael Cimino will be in Venice to attend the presentation, and it's an honor for us after all he's suffered to be able to present this recovered masterpiece.'

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023