By Indiewire | Indiewire August 30, 2001 at 2:00AM
Venice 2001: Politics, Heat and "Dust" On the Lido as Fest Kicks Off
by Belle Burke
(indieWIRE/ 08.30.01) -- It might be said that nothing that occurs in Italy is without political significance, and the 58th Venice Film Festival, which opened Wednesday night, is no exception: the rightist government of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate, is being blamed for the absence of officials whose presence is normally a given. The fact that director Nanni Moretti ("The Son's Room"), a perpetual thorn in the side of the establishment, heads this year's jury is also cited as a reason for the no-shows who as a rule lap up the photo-ops at these gala opening nights.
The Venice festival officially kicked off with "Dust," directed by Milcho Manchevski, who won Venice's top prize in 1995 with "Before the Rain." "Dust," which is not in competition, is a much more complicated and ambitious film than Manchevski's first. Set in 1913 in the Balkans and New York, "Dust" is a story of "love, revenge and fratricide" as two brothers (Joseph Fiennes, David Wenham) fall in love with the same woman (Anne Brochet). Screened along with it was the world premiere of "L'amore probabilmente" directed by Giuseppe Bertolucci (that's right, the other Bertolucci, brother of Bernardo), and the first digital film to be shown here. More from opening night will appear in tomorrow's indieWIRE.
The Venice festival usually gets under way rather languidly -- so far the heat this year is coming from the weather, torrid even for an Italian summer -- and picks up momentum as it progresses. Nothing, however, can keep the press away. Accreditations went over the 2000 mark last year and are already close to that this year, with more sure to come, for as the fixed population of Venice shrinks, the festival crowds grow. Every hotel room has been booked for months, and a cruise ship has been temporarily converted to a floating hotel for an elite guest list.
The festival director, Alberto Barbera, has doubled up on the films which will be eligible for prizes by making the Cinema of the Present (or Contemporary Cinema) section also competitive, with 21 films, theoretically for emerging talents, in order to give, he says, "more visibility to all directors." The traditional competition, now called Venezia 58, will showcase 20 films. Although Barbera insists that the two categories are of equal importance, there is already disagreement about that: some are calling the newly-created Cinema of the Present the "B" list, while others say it's the one to watch for more cutting-edge, imaginative, and/or idiosyncratic films. Even Barbera tacitly admits this by calling those films vying for the traditional Golden Lion as "auteur" cinema, more well-established and more classic, and the second group, competing for the Lion of the Year award, as films that take more risks. Illustrating this duality, the Venezia 58 jury is composed of well-known figures in the film industry, and the Cinema del Presente jury of critics and directors is considered more avant-garde.
The Venice program, consisting of 146 films (of which 78 are full-length features, 68 shorts and documentaries, chosen from over 2400 submissions), has so far also inspired less than wild enthusiasm. Some in the Italian press have been complaining about "hard" films, such as Larry Clark's "Bully" (reported by one critic as the "scandalous" film of this year's roster) and Ulrich Seidl's "Hundstage," but Barbera defends his selections as graphic reflections of contemporary. He points with pride to the fact that there are 19 directors making their debut here, even as he admits that many of them never make a second film.
Barbera is clearly pleased with what he calls the resurgence of Italian cinema even as he laments the absence of new works by Marco Bellocchio ("La Condanna"), Silvio Soldini ("Bread and Tulips"), and Paolo Virzi ("La Bela Vita"). In response to a question about alleged anti-Americanism, as well as the abolition of the crowd-pleasing Dreams and Visions sector which showed mostly Hollywood blockbusters, Barbera responded by stating that the market is changing because of the increasingly short release time for studio films. He also says that the independents in the U.S. are in crisis and there are very few true independents left, citing the decline in quality of the Sundance festival as evidence.
More and more films in the festival are co-productions, about half of those competing for the Golden Lion, such as "Behind the Sun," directed by Walter Salles (of "Central Station" fame) from an Albanian story transposed to Brazil, and "How Harry Became a Tree" by Goran Paskaljevic (winner of the International Critics' Prize in Venice for "The Powder Keg.") Other well-known directors competing in this category are Amos Gitai ("Eden"), Ken Loach ("The Navigators"), Richard Linklater ("Waking Life"), Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding"), Larry Clark ("Bully"), Alfonso Cuaron ("Y tu Mama tambien") among many other international auteurs.
Also at the festival, a special homage will be paid to Eric Rohmer, who will be in Venice to receive his Career Golden Lion and screen his latest film "The Lady and the Duke." But -- need it be said once again -- most of the coverage will revolve around the announced presence of Nicole Kidman (a great favorite here), Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron, Denzel Washington, and so on, plus Elizabeth Taylor, guest of honor at a very exclusive, very expensive benefit for AMFAR.