FESTIVALS: The Venice Diaries: Asian Winners, Kusturica's Band, and Molto Scorsese
by A. G. Basoli
September 9th - Day Nine: Actress contenders, "Jesus' Son"
I'm espresso-ed out. Caffeine has replaced sleep. Caffeine is what keeps
Golden Lion's new fave is Zhang Yimou's "Not One Less," in addition to
Abbas Kiarostami's "The Wind Will Carry Us," which remains at the lead. As far as
I can see Samantha Morton has a chance of winning the Volpi Cup for best
actress. Anyone who goes from ingenue ("Sweet and Lowdown") to
junkie ("Jesus's Son") with such panache is at least worth the mention.
Runners up are Kate Winslet ("Holy Smoke") and Nathalie Baye in Frederic
Fonteyne's "A Pornographic Affair." For the men, it's trickier.
Spent the afternoon hustling a ticket for the official screening of Antonio
Banderas' "Crazy In Alabama." The press screening was yesterday, my Italian
Cinema day, so I missed it - darn. Actually I strayed yesterday for one hour.
I went to see an English film "Wisconsin Death Trip", by James Marsh and I
don't regret it. It was a very original, somewhat morbid, utterly engaging
work about a series of bizarre suicides, murders and rampant madness in Black
Wisconsin in the final decade of the 19th century.
Tonight I caught a portion of an outstanding film by visionary Japanese
director Macoto Tezca "The Innocent." I wish I could see it again from the
beginning. I don't know anything about the plot, but the imagery is
astonishing! I think one of the reasons for the decline of figurative
painting is that, in the end, cinema made the genre obsolete.
Alison Maclean delivers with "Jesus' Son." Keeping the "blues" out of her
sophomore outing, Maclean favored rich earth tones and textured images for
her rakish excursion into the drug subculture of the 70's. Based on the
highly acclaimed collection of short stories by Denis
Johnson, "Jesus' Son," is the story of a young man's journey from addiction
and petty crime to redemption through the startling discovery of his own
capacity for compassion. Screenwriters Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia and
Oren Moverman do a fine job of translating the edgy, episodic material into a
cohesive story-line while maintaining its original intensity and dark humor.
Maclean's bold and cutting edge direction underscores fine performances by a
captivating cast that includes Bill Crudup, Samantha Morton, Holly Hunter,
and Dennis Hopper.
September 10th - Day Ten: "Fight Club," Kusturica and the No Smoking Band.
"Fight Club" is making trouble on the Lido. Divided critics: some called it
fascist art, some semi-loved it. Interviewed Alison Maclean and spent most of
the day writing. "Jesus' Son" was the last film in competition. From now on
it's all shorts and repeats - not many.
At night I went to see Kusturica in concert with the No Smoking Band. Cowboy
hat, work out jacket, cigar (so much for the no-smoking band), and guitar
strapped around his shoulders, Kusturica and his group - they go back
seventeen years - entertained a wild young audience of mostly Italian
students with gypsy music until the wee-wee hours of the night.
September 11th - Day Eleven: Scorsese's dolce cinema, Asia sweeps the awards,
The entire morning was dedicated to Martin Scorsese's work in progress
documentary "Il Dolce Cinema" ("Sweet Cinema"). 11 am screening, 12:45 press
conference, 2pm cocktail lunch: all Marty. I liked the film. It made me want
to know more about Italian Neo-Realists. "Open City,"
"Paisá," "Shoeshine," "The Bicycle Thief." These are all films I have seen at
some point or another and are part of my heritage, in a sense. Not unlike
Scorsese, I saw "Open City" on a television re-run as a small child. At the
scene where Anna Magnani is killed in the street while running after the Nazi
truck, I balled out and my mother escorted me to bed. For years I was worried
about Anna Magnani, not knowing that what I had seen was a film. Luckily
"Open City" is an obligatory stop for everyone who works in film, so the
mystery was eventually solved - for my peace of mind, if nothing else.
At the press conference were present Neo-Realism icon Suso Cecchi D'Amico,
the screenwriter of many of Rosselini's films and other prominent directors
of that period, and Giorgio Armani, who will co-produce the documentary.
Scorsese outlined how he intends to assemble the remainder of the documentary
and petitioned the Italian Institutions to assist his search for some of the
prints, a lot of them are lost or unlocatable.
Asia swept the awards at the Closing Night ceremony in the Sala Grande of the
Palazzo del Cinema. A piqued Abbas Kiarostami received the Jury Prize for
"The Wind Will Carry Us" announcing his retirement from festival competitions
during his acceptance speech. The coveted Golden Lion went to Zhang Yimou's
"Not One Less," and a newly established prize for best director went to Zhang
Yuan's "Seventeen Years," the other Chinese film in competition, although
according to Chinese authorities Zhang Yimou's was the only one. Zhang Yuan's
Italian co-production allegedly incurred the displeasure of Chinese
authorities and was denied censorship approval, as well as participation in
the Venice Film Festival. So when the two Chinese directors sat together at
the awards and exchanged greetings and jokes, there was a bit of commotion and
Chinese officials reportedly ushered Mr. Yimou to another seat.
The fledgling De Laurentiis prize for first feature, announced at the
beginning of the festival, went to the Italian film "Questo é il Giardino"
("This is the Garden") by Giovanni Davide Maderna, a film which was
unanimously panned by audiences and critics. The Mastroianni Prize for best
emerging actor went to the delightful Nina Proll for the role of Jasmin in
Barbara Albert's "Nordrand" ("Northern Skirts"). Nathalie Baye won the Volpi
Cup for Best Actress and Jim Broadbent won for Best Actor for his portrayal
of W.S. Gilbert in Mike Leigh's "Topsy Turvy." During an embarrassing live
broadcast on Italian television there was a power failure and the theater was
plunged into total darkness for about two full minutes, just as the jurors
were being introduced.
After the ceremony I hung out with my friend Maurizio who writes for a
prominent Italian daily. We went to the Excelsior. I don't know what got into
me, but for some reason I dressed totally casual in slacks and tennis shoes;
I could never have pulled it off in Cannes. The "Fight Club" contingent was
there with Ed Norton and Fox's Gene Gianopoulos. There was a funny exchange
between Maurizio and Gianopoulos; the exec was semi-pressuring Maurizio into
saying that he "loved" "Fight Club" but all he could get out of him was that
Maurizio "liked" the film. "You 'liked' it?" was Gene's bruised and menacing
response. Maurizio in true Neapolitan style replied: "Yes, but 'like' is
better, because love ends!"
Kusturica showed up - like, the next day - and we exchanged a few words. "Now
I'm upset," he quipped "Because I'm not president anymore." To that, he added
on a more serious note that he feels Venice is an important festival, because
it's one of the few festivals to promote
auteur cinema of which he's a staunch defender. Referring to neo-realism,
Kusturica observed that films made in countries where the suffering of the
people is real are more compelling than films where social suffering feels
fabricated for dramatic purposes. "Those films," he commented "are at a
disadvantage and end up dealing only with emotions." He noted that this
difference was evident in the films in competition and it was one of the
criteria for the selection of the winners.
Venice in transition seemed to gain in content, but lose in resonance.
Although this year's figures indicate that press and audience in attendance
have increased, the overall feeling, for better or for worse, is that the
festival was perhaps better organized, but fewer stars and major players
appeared. Despite Barbera's unquestionably good intentions and sharp
programming, more so than in previous years, the festival apparatus felt like
the private playground of a restricted number of highfalutin' local officials
threatening to turn the once prestigious, once international Venice Film
Festival into a regional phenomenon.