VENICE 2000: Violent Films, Sedate Festival, 57th Event Lacks Expected Italian Bite
by Belle Burke
(indieWIRE/9.18.00) -- Blood nearly dripped off the screen in a number of offerings at the 57th Venice Film Festival, which concluded September 9, but the event itself
was curiously bloodless: no explosive controversies, no accusations of
favoritism or jury-rigging -- all of which featured in recent festivals
here -- and even the press was relatively well-behaved, to the point
where press conference questions often lacked their usual sting.
The other face of the festival's sedateness was the violence of the
films, whether visual, as in Kitano's "Brother" and Tsui Hark's "Time and Tide"; visceral, as in the Korean Ki-Duk Kim's "Seom" ("The Isle"); gratuitous, as in the Italian film "Denti" ("Teeth); or political, as in
two films about actual Mafia assassinations, Marco Tullio Giordana's
superb "I Cento Passi" ("The Hundred Steps") and Pasquale Scimeca's
"Placido Rizzotto," and Benoit Jacquot's "Sade," about the imprisonment of the infamous marquis. Although it may be impossible to quantify or
qualify evil, Ivory Coast filmmaker Roger Gnoan M'Bala's "Adanggaman,"
illustrates it by depicting people slaughtered and sold into slavery by
their own countrymen in 17th century Africa.
Then there was institutionalized violence -- the plight of Iranian women
in the picture that took the Golden Lion, "Dayareh" ("The Circle"),
directed in compellingly understated fashion by Jafar Panahi -- as well
as the inescapable cruelty of life, either in a remote Bengali village
as shown in "Uttara" by Buddhadeb Dasgupta (it won the Special
Director's Award) or in today's Marseilles in home-town director Robert
Guediguian's " La Ville Est Tranquille."
While the killing went on and the body count rose, certain patterns
emerged: Takeshi Kitano, directing himself, at times appeared to be
mocking the genre, while "Time and Tide" was high-voltage, fast-paced,
non-stop choreography and Gabriele Salvatores found black (and bloody)
humor in visits to the dentist. Is the message supposed to be that we've
become inured to evil, that we can't escape it, that we should view it as
entertainment, or all of the above?
All this violence -- and there was much more on view -- was distinctly
un-American. Is the U.S., which practically invented the genre,
mellowing or cooling out? It would appear so from our entries. "Space
Cowboys," Robert Altman's "Dr. T and the Women," Ed Harris's "Pollock," and a cynical but appealing comedy from David Mamet, "State and Main," are cases in point, even though a few U.S. "horror films" -- "The Cell" and "What Lies Beneath" -- were screened, and all the films of Clint
Eastwood, to whom the festival paid tribute this year. Meanwhile, away
from the ranch, could it be that the disintegration of tradition in the
Far East and Europe is leading to a film culture of unsparing violence,
or is it simply an emulation and imitation of Hollywood's legacy from
which we are retreating?
There is obviously a market for such films even when (or because) the
violence is pointless and it's impossible to tell the good guys (if
there are any) from the bad. But those with the scariest scenarios,
such as the two dealing with the Mafia and director Guido Chiesa's "Il
Partigiano Johnny" ("The Partisan Johnny") about the Italian resistance
movement in World War II, were the most deeply felt, the truest, and
therefore the most effective, as well as being low-budget. Just as "The
Circle" is a terrifying look at the powerlessness of women in some parts
of the world, Stephen Frears's "Liam" is a window into the desperation
of working-class Liverpool during the depression years, and "The Last
Resort," also filmed in England by director Paul Pawlikowski (whose
background is in documentaries) describes the plight of political
refugees in a bleak seaside town used as a holding area, and yet all of
them display humanity in the midst of adversity. BBC2 produced both
"Liam" and "The Last Resort."
More ambitious pictures fared less well in some cases: pre-festival buzz
had it that Sally Potter's "The Man Who Cried" (for which she also wrote
the screenplay) and Jia Zhang Ke's "Platform" had great promise but
neither of them lived up to the prediction. "Platform" (screening at the
NYFF next week) looks at China in the '80s from the perspective of a
group of young musicians, and seems to take almost a decade to do it,
Potter's is a sentimentalized take on pre-World War II Europe that seems
oddly detached from history.
On the other hand, Clara Law's "The Goddess of 1967," beautifully
filmed and acted (Rose Byrne won the Best Actress award), shows a keen
sense of cinematic possibilities, and Christopher Nolan's "Memento" is a
gripping thriller told through multiple flashbacks and flashforwards.
Of Latin-oriented pictures, two received major recognition. Julian
Schnabel's "Before Night Falls," based on the life of Cuban writer
Reinaldo Arenas, persecuted and driven into exile by the Castro regime,
garnered the Jury Grand Prize and earned Best Actor for Javier Bardem in
the principal role. The loquacious Schnabel was everywhere during the
fest, wearing what was variously described as a sarong or a pareo, and
giving his opinion about everything to the point of indiscretion, while
Iranian director Jafar Panahi clearly did not want to talk about the
future prospects for his film in Iran.
The Golden Medal of the Italian Senate went to Barbet Schroeder for "La Virgen de los Sicarios" ("Our Lady of the Assassins"), shot (the
operative word in this case) in Medellin, Colombia, where some members
of the cast came from the streets and needed no body makeup as they
already had bullet wounds, and the crew and equipment had to be guarded
night and day by police armed with machine guns.
On a definitely lighter note, "Calle 54" by Spanish director Fernando
Trueba, is a lovely tribute to the great Latin-American musicians of our
time. The heart and soul of Algerian-French director Tony Gatlif's
"Vengo" is Andalusian flamenco in all its beauty and power. A musical
version of "West Side Story" called "Sud Side Stori," situated in
Palermo, was Roberta Torre's second effort, but was almost unwatchable
even to her fans.
After being ignored last year, Italian cinema came back with a
vengeance, but all was not mafiosi and fascists, as Carlo Mazzacurati
demonstrated with his comedy "La Lingua del Santo" ("The Saint's
Tongue") about a couple of inept criminals who steal a holy relic. The
Chinese did not go home with prizes as they have in previous years,
including Zhang Yimou who twice won the Golden Lion.
Among the French entries, Chabrol disappointed with "Merci por le
Chocolat," starring Isabelle Huppert, but two French-language films won
collateral awards: "Thomas est Amoureux" ("Thomas in Love") by Belgian
Pierre-Paul Renders in the Cinema of the Present category and an award
for best first work to Abdel Kechiche for "La Faute a Voltaire" (It's Voltaire's Fault") in the Critics' Week section.
In addition to Cinema of the Present, Dreams and Visions, New
Territories, Critics Week, and the usual short-subject section, there
was much that was worth seeing, such as an Errol Morris group of short
films, a series of interpretations of Beckett by notable filmmakers, and
a work in progress by Peter Greenaway, who was on hand to talk about it,
but little or no time to see them. On the whole the festival was reasonably well-organized and certainly well-attended, with over 37,000 tickets sold and more than 2000 press passes issued.
Although rain fell in torrents on several occasions there was not much
turbulence at the 57th Venice Film Festival, which can best be described
by the furor over Claudia Schiffer (subject of a 16-minute film by
Nicolas Roeg called "Sound") canceling a much-ballyhooed press
conference because she was running late and had only one hour for
makeup. Not enough, said the internationally-famous model, and was
promptly castigated by everyone, including festival director Alberto