VENICE 2000: Perverse Weekend Highlights, "Teeth" and "Together," Kitano and Mosher
by A.G. Basoli
(indieWIRE/9.5.00) --Perversion was on the programmers' minds when choosing this year's Venice Film Festival line-up -- clearly indicated by the presence among the opening titles of Benoit Jacquot's "Sade." As it turned out, however, Jacquot's elegant period tale, featuring a fine-tuned performance by Daniel Auteuil in the title role, may have been among the blandest in that department.
Surely conceived under Sade's tutelage, Korean director Kim Ki-Duk's "The Isle," a gloomy tale of love and obsession brought a whole new dimension to the term "hooking up with someone." When a runaway murderer (Yoo-suk Kim) finds refuge in a fishing resort, he is rescued from suicide by the lake's custodian, the beautiful Hee-Jin (Jung Suh) who soon becomes his lover and accomplice. Their passion winds down to a tragic conclusion when the police finally discover them. The film received a mixed response -- one spectator even fainted during a scene when the protagonist swallows fishing hooks to escape capture and is pulled out of the lake with a fishing rod.
Gabriele Salvatores' idiosyncratic and wildly imaginative "Denti" (Teeth), a coming of age tale about love, loss and emancipation, offers a film with a mighty bite. Marking the Oscar winning ("Mediterraneo") director's first time in a festival, the film is about Antonio (Sergio Rubini) a man obsessed with his front teeth -- so much so his girlfriend smashes them in a jealous rage. The incident releases childhood memories and longings, engulfing Antonio's reality with hallucinations and dream-like sequences. "I wanted the film to be a sensory experience," said Salvatores who made ample use of digital technology for special effects. "Special effects gave me unlimited freedom, but it's like in writing. At first there were fountain pens, then pens, typewriters and now computers. Still if you don't know what to write they're all useless. Unless there is a narrative, special effects are pointless."
Takeshi Kitano's relentless and stylistically rigorous first U.S. film, "Brother," starring Beat Takeshi (aka Mr. Kitano) and Omar Epps, is the tale of Yamamoto (Beat Takeshi), a Yakuza chief banished from his clan who builds a criminal empire in America. At the after screening dinner for "Brother" by the pool of the Hotel Des Bains, a very gracious and charming Mr. Kitano apologized to some of the ladies for the violence in the film: a few pinkies get chopped off, a clan member performs Hara-kiri and most of the others get their brains blown off. "I wanted to adapt the style of the Japanese Yakuza into the background of Los Angeles," explains the director who laced the cool western environments with traditional Japanese touches, as when gang-war casualties are randomly laid out on the floor of Yamamoto's once plush lair to form the Japanese character representing "Death."
At the opposite end of the spectrum brimming with "make love not war" vibes was the instant festival hit "Together" by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson ("Fucking Amal"), a humorous and touching excursion into the hang-ups and quirks of Sweden's 70s that is keeping U.S. distributors circling.
From Iran's Makhmalbaf Film House was Marziyeh Meshkini's gorgeously photographed, riveting first film "The Day I Became a Woman" in the Critics' Week section and eligible for the coveted De Laurentiis First Film Prize, an eloquent study of three generations of women in Iran shot in episodic form. "The film takes a look at the lives of women who are segregated in the home not because they are hated," writes the director "but rather because they are loved, women who must give up their feelings to gain their independence and gain an active social position." Especially compelling was the episode where her husband divorces a young woman because she participates in a bicycle race.
Among the De Laurentiis Prize entries is stage director Gregory Mosher's turn to film, "The Prime Gig." Featuring fine performances from leads Vincent Vaughn, Julia Ormond and Ed Harris, the film was shot by legendary "Chinatown" cinematographer John Alonzo who keenly recaptures the atmosphere of the 70s. "I wanted to capture the wonderful screenplay by William Wheeler," says Mosher. "It's a story about young men who measure their lives by money and come to discover how ultimately self-destructive that is." The film is also reminiscent of the salesmen underworld of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" (a play for which Mosher won a Tony for best director on Broadway).
Speaking of David Mamet, his latest film "State and Main" has been added to the program and will screen towards the end of the festival.