by Roderick Conway Morris

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Lost Continents

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 31 August 2005


No Venice Film Festival of recent years has been quite complete without a display of outrage by the big noises of Rome's film industry on discovering that their productions have, yet again, failed to secure the top prizes. They have sometimes even packed their bags and stormed back to the Eternal City before the closing ceremony.

Starting next year, Rome plans to have its own film festival in October, hard on the heels of Venice. This may offer the domestic film industry an arena more sympathetic to its wares, but it is unlikely to dent Venice's position as one of the big three worldwide film showcases, along with Cannes and Berlin.

Marco Müller, in his second year as artistic director, has drastically reduced the number of movies in the three main categories - In Competition, Out of Competition and Horizons - from more than 80 last year to 56 at this year's event. With a lighter program, he hopes to avoid the organizational chaos that marred last year's festival, in addition to accommodating increased security measures without disrupting the festival timetable.

For the first time, the festival will open and close with Chinese language films. The opener, set to be screened Wednesday, will be the Vietnam-born Tsui Hark's historical martial arts epic 'Seven Swords.' The festival's official close on Sept. 10 will be marked by 'Perhaps Love,' a more contemporary story set in the world of film and entertainment, from the Hong Kong director Peter Ho-Sun Chan.

The multilingual Müller, who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese, has also included in the festival a major sidebar retrospective: 'The Secret History of the Asian Cinema.' This program will screen 15 Chinese B-movies and lesser- known productions made between 1934 and 1990 and a parallel list of 38 Japanese films from 1926 to 1978. The sidebar films will bring to more than 60 the total number of Far Eastern movies, new and old, that will be shown.

American movies have been prominently flagged by Müller, with 9 of the total 11 billed as world premieres. Two of them are in competition: 'Good Night, and Good Luck,' a black and white film, directed by and starring George Clooney, about a CBS news team determined to exonerate an innocent victim of Joe McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunt; and John Turturro's musical love triangle, 'Romance & Cigarettes,' starring Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, James Gandolfini and Christopher Walken.

These and other star vehicles being shown out of competition are calculated to keep the glamour and glitter quotient high throughout the festival. Clooney, Sarandon, Russell Crowe, Ralph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche, Charlotte Rampling and Monica Bellucci are scheduled to appear.

One gala event will be the world premiere of Disney's 'Casanova,' directed by Lasse Hallström, followed by a lavish theme party at the Doge's Palace on Saturday. In the title role is Heath Ledger, who also stars, along with Jake Gyllenhaal, in Ang Lee's in-competition 'Brokeback Mountain,' the story of a long-running, secret homosexual love affair between two cowboys set in the 1960s. Ledger is also featured in Terry Gilliam's in-competition 'The Brothers Grimm,' while Gyllenhaal stars with Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins in the in-competition 'Proof.'

'Brokeback Mountain' is based on a story by Annie Proulx. More than half of the films in competition are inspired by printed fiction: from the 'City of God' director Fernando Meirelles's version of John le Carré's 'The Constant Gardener'; to Patrice Chéreau's 'Gabrielle,' inspired by Joseph Conrad's 'The Return'; to Laurent Cantet's 'Vers le Sud,' starring Rampling as one of a trio of middle-aged American sex tourists who go to Haiti during the final days of Baby Doc Duvalier, from a story by the Haitian writer and journalist Dany Laferrière.

Venice's artistic directors are customarily under intense local pressure to include as many Italian films as possible. This year, if one discounts three nominally Italian productions by foreign directors (John Irvin's 'The Fine Art of Love'; Abel Ferrara's 'Mary'; and 'All the Invisible Children,' a group effort by an octet of directors, including Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, John Woo and Emir Kusturica), the total of homegrown feature films, seven, is on a par with France.

Entire continents have been passed over in this year's selection. There is nothing from Africa or Australia. Latin America is represented by a single film each from Argentina and Brazil.

In the Soviet Union, the film industry was one of the prime artistic losers in the collapse of communism. Then almost out of the blue two years ago appeared the Siberian-born Andrei Zvyagintsev's 'The Return,' which richly deserved the Golden Lion it bagged. Representing Russia in competition this year is Aleksei German Jr.'s 'Garpastum,' the title of which comes from the Slavic version of the ancient Greco-Roman word for football. 'Garpastum' is about a quartet of youths who set out to form a soccer team in 1914.

The sole film in the three principal categories from a Muslim-majority country is Erden Kiral's 'Yolda' (On the Road), showing in the Horizons section and described as a tribute to the director's mentor, Yilmaz Güney, maker of the classic Turkish movies 'Sürü' (The Herd) and 'Yol' (Road).

The Japanese manga master and animation artist-director, Hayao Miyazaki, will get a Golden Lion for career achievement. In 2004 his 'Howl's Moving Castle' was the first animated movie to be in competition in Venice in more than 30 years, and he is the first director in this category to be recognized with a career Golden Lion.

This cheerful, 64-year-old workaholic, who puts in long hours even by Japanese standards to create his phenomenally complex moving tapestries, became a kind of local hero last year thanks to his modesty and old-world courtesy when seats at the public premiere of his film turned out to have been double-booked. Tempers and voices were raised, and the occasion seemed to be disintegrating as dramatically as Miyazaki's eponymous mobile edifice during the denouement of the film.

A second career Golden Lion will go to Stefania Sandrelli, veteran Italian trouper. From 1961 until today, she has appeared in 107 films, immediately making headlines while still a teenager in Pietro Germi's 'Divorzio All'Italiana' (Divorce Italian-style). She was sometimes as famous for her dalliances with the likes of Marcello Mastroianni, Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu as for her performances on screen.

She revived her flagging career in the early 1980s by generously exposing her charms in 'La Chiave' (The Key) by the risqué director Tinto Brass, and she maintains a devoted if aging following as a glamorous 59-year-old 'all'Italiana' grandmother.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2024