FESTIVALS: Part I: Four Days in Venice -- Barbera, Kusturica, Peirce, Jonze, Polanski and Korine
by A.G. Basoli
[Writer A.G. Basoli is writing a daily diary from the 1999 Venice International Film Festival. Additional entries will be published later this week.]
>> September 1, 1999 -- Day One
Barbera crowned, Opening press conference, EWS Uncensored
Venice at last! I'm sure I'll be all right once I get over the culture shock of being back in my home country. When I'm in the States all I ever remember is the architecture, the art and the food - I keep forgetting the bureaucracy. Luckily I had no problem this year getting my pass and mailbox, but judging from the screaming matches and complaints I heard in the press office today I must have been one of the exceptions. Not to worry, though! The new festival director Alberto Barbera promised he'd run a tight ship. The overall feeling is that Barbera can do no wrong.
The youngest director to date, 48 year-old Barbera managed to negotiate full powers for himself from the Venice Biennale honchos, and put together a very exciting lineup pairing heavyweight auteurs with newcomers and Hollywood fare, clearly focusing his mandate on emerging filmmakers. On my list are Spike Jonze's first feature "Being John Malkovich," Harmony Korine's Dogme 95 movie "julien donkey boy," and Kimberly Peirce's debut "Boys Don't Cry." I'm super-curious about Wes Craven's transition to straight drama , "Music of the Heart." Among the competition fare, Jane Campion's "Holy Smoke," Lasse Hallstrom's "The Cider House Rules," Mike Leigh's "Topsy-Turvy," and Kiarostami's "The Wind Will Carry Us." Woody Allen's new "Sweet And Lowdown" is premiering out of competition, and Scorsese's work-in-progress documentary on Italian Cinema,"Il Dolce Cinema," is set to close the festival. I've only scratched the surface.
At the press conference Barbera introduced a new Prize, "Luigi De Laurentiis" Venezia Opera Prima (First Work) which he said is the equivalent of the Camera d'Or at Cannes. The Prize will go to the best first feature and will consist of $100,000 to be split 50-50 between director and producer plus 20,000 meters of film offered by Kodak. Barbera observed that the most crucial moment in a filmmaker's career is the transition from first to second feature and that the prize, while signaling the emergence of a new talent, means to offer concrete help for the follow-up. The room lit up when Competition Jury President Emir Kusturica ("Underground," "Black Cat, White Cat") stepped up to the mike. "My dream to become president has come true, so thanks" he announced.
In other departments Barbera, a Piemontese, a practical man, implemented logistical changes that will make life easier on everyone. Press activity is concentrated in one building - which happens to be the Casino, perfectly in line with the gambling nature of filmmaking. There will be more screenings for each film and a newly established "Industry Office" will provide direct assistance to the various industry types in attendance effectively supplanting last year's half-hearted crack at a "Venice Market."
Saw "Eyes Wide Shut" again, uncut this time, at the festival inaugural screening. A pretty awkward opening night ceremony for big wigs only featured, celebrity-wise, a fidgety albeit exquisite Nicole Kidman flanked by hubby Tom Cruise, Bernardo Bertolucci and an irrepressible Kusturica. "When I received my first prize in Venice eighteen years ago," he said, "a critic from Time Magazine wrote "Nobody from nowhere won." Maybe that will be the criterion for picking this year's Golden Lion's winner." I had to leave "Eyes Wide Shut" early to catch the 10 p.m. of Jerzy Stuhr's "A Week in the Life of a Man." By the way "EWS" uncensored is gorgeous, it's like watching a Goya in motion. I don't know what could possibly be offensive about it. Anyway they didn't let us into the Sturh screening because 'the 10 pm. is for dailies only'. The house was half empty.
>> September 2, 1999 -- Day Two
"Boys Don't Cry," "Being John Malkovich"
Two out of two - two debuts and two knock-outs! Yesterday I ran into Patrick, my festival Buddy from Chicago who writes for the Hollywood Reporter. Together we ran into Christine Vachon - she produced "Boys Don't Cry." I saw the film yesterday and went to the press conference earlier today. It's a challenging film about a difficult subject - the Brandon Teena murder in 1993 - that first-timer Kimberly Peirce articulates with harrowing honesty and piercing insight. "The real key for me was making sense of Brandon, I wanted to make sense of what his desire was."
On an entirely different note is Spike Jonze's outlandish comedy "Being John Malkovich." John Malkovich, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener showed up today on the Lido. I was very intrigued with Spike Jonze - the film is so full of boldly original images. I wonder how much of it was in the script (by Charlie Kaufman) and how much of it was director's sheer spunk.
At night I went to the party for "Nordrand," by Austrian first-time director Barbara Albert. The film is in competition but unfortunately I missed it. I heard good things about it, though.
>> Septemeber , 3, 1999 -- Day Three
Eros rules in Jane Campion's new film "Holy Smoke." What is it about Kate Winslet that she keeps getting cast as the woman on a spiritual quest in exotic countries. For a moment there at the beginning I thought we were in the sequel to "Hideous Kinky." Then, luckily Jane Campion's unmistakable voice re-emerged and we were back on track. Harvey Keitel is a fine guru-buster, with Kate Winslet, they dazzled.
>> September 4, 1999 -- Day Four
"Eye of the Beholder," Independent Pictures and Miramax parties
Electrifying press conference with Australian director Stephan Elliott. Last night I squeezed into the midnight screening at the last minute - I keep forgetting to go easy on the espressos - and I was completely blown away by "Eye of the Beholder." I walked in five minutes into the movie - no time to ease into it. Gorgeous images vaguely Terry Gilliamesque ("Brazil").
Independent Pictures Party tonight for Mark Hanlon's disquieting and visually haunting "Buddy Boy"- about catholic voyeur Francis ("Circle of Friends'" Aidan Gillen) and his gorgeous girlfriend Gloria (Emmanuelle Seigner), a mysterious neighbor with possibly unorthodox eating habits. The movie stayed with me afterwards, though I have to say, at first glance, I wasn't crazy about it.
The party was small with a buffet dinner. I was teetering about the ravioli. Patrick didn't think they were stuffed with human flesh, but he stuck with the shrimp. I met most of the guests including Roman Polanski who was there with his wife, actress Seigner. As I was about to throw out a couple of questions on his upcoming "The Ninth Gate," some cretin whose identity shall remain unknown, butt in to chat and asked, "When will we see you back in Los Angeles?" Polanski replied politely "Can we talk about something else?"
Chatted with Harmony Korine about "julien donkey boy" and Dogme 95. He said he's glad that there is a form of making movies that he can always go back to, to be redeemed. I asked redeemed from what? He said he won't always make Dogma films but it's nice to know that it's there, that there is a form of making movies that is pure and free of tricks and special effects. Other guests included Chloe Sevigny, Samantha Morton ("Sweet and Lowdown"),and Tristine and Lisanne Skyler from "Getting to Know You" (in the International Critics' Week section), whose film will open theatrically in Italy in a few weeks. Afterwards we walked over to the Des Bains for the Miramax Indian-themed party. There was live Indian music and great food - but I had already eaten at the other party. Pretty much everybody from "Holy Smoke" was there, including Harvey Keitel whom I met, Kate Winslet and Jane Campion. Hung out with Kim Peirce and Patrick.
[A. G. Basoli is a freelance writer in NYC. She has written for the NY Independent Film Monitor and the Italian culture & entertainment monthly ,"Sipario".]