Film Scouts Diaries

1995 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Venice Diary - Day 1

by Daniele Heymann

Opened on August 30th on the legendary island off the city of Venice called the Lido, the "Mostra" is the oldest film festival in history. It was born as a sidebar of the Venice Biennale which, like cinema, celebrates its 100 anniversary this year

Mercifully short, the opening night ceremonies are provincial and lackluster--closer to the inauguration of a country fair than to the kickoff of a prestigious International Festival. The mayor is thanked for being there, as is the "onorevole" State Secretary of whatever. Nicknamed "Blue Eyes" (add "Old" and you'll be sued for trademark infringement), the head of the Mostra, director Gillo Pontecorvo ("Battle of Algiers", "Queimada"), introduced the members of the jury which included a former head of the Mostra, writer Guglielmo Biraghi, and no less than four filmmakers: French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (half of the Caro-Jeunet tandem that gave us "Delicatessen" and the soon-to-be-released "City of Lost Children"); Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami ("The Olive Trees"); German-born but Italian-based Margaretha von Trotta ("The Promise") and Neapolitan Mario Martone ("L'Amore Molesto"). Two American critics, Peter Rainer (formerly from "the Los Angeles Times") and Mo Rothman, rounded up the jury. The warmest welcome went to writer and scriptwriter Jorge ("Z", "The Confession") Semprun, elected President of the jury by his colleagues themselves. No one was more qualified for the job, Pontecorvo said, since Semprun had been Spain's minister of culture for five years. "Three!" Semprun interjected with a smile, shaking his Leonard Bernstein-like mane. "Three years, and that was quite enough, thank you."

And so, on with the show: 11 days, 373 screenings, 144 films in seven theatres sitting 3,794, 60 press conferences, a reasonable dose of (mostly American) superstars, and several obligatory spots of the must-be-there-to-see-and-be-seen type.

1) The pontoon of the Hotel Excelsior--an exquisitely pink monument to Oriental kitsch--is where the stars dock after sailing into Festivalland on board a "motoscafo" of spruced-up waxed-out mahogany. A horde of photographers have set up camp there. As soon as the Star appears at the last bend of the little canal lined with pink laurel trees, the "paparazzi" jump into action. Shaking on terra non firma, as the tiny boat rolls and rocks, the Star must stand and smile until the photographers are done and/or the poor Star is close to sea-sickness-induced nausea.

2) The Excelsior Bar serves the Lido's best Bellini, a (deservedly) famous cocktail mixing "Prosecco" (dry white wine) and fresh peach juice.

3) The old palace, l'Hotel des Bains is inescapable, as is its beach lined with zebra-striped masts propping up tents of faded canvas. The phantom of Luchino Visconti haunts the area: it is on this very beach that he shot "Death in Venice"

The Mostra has long had the reputation of being strictly for overzealous filmbuffs and intense intellectuals--i.e. a rather boring event. That does not seem to be the case this year, despite Pontecorvo's somewhat defeatist statements. Maybe "Cinema ain't what it used to be", or maybe, in a sort of pre-emptive strike, Pontecorvo wanted to dispell any "evil eye" that might have been cast on "his" festival. We still don't know what the next eleven days have in store for us, but one is particularly looking forward to Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite", Spike Lee's "Clockers" and Sean Penn's "The Crossing Guard". American films are here in full force --making it difficult to accuse "notoriously leftist" Pontecorvo of "blatant anti-Americanism", as was often done in the past.

All the more so since the opening night's film was Tony Scott's "Crimson Tide" (called here "Alerta Rosso"). To promote their action-cum-human-conflict version of "Das Boot", the distributor had a submarine surface in the middle of the Canal, right across the Piazza San Marco. Since both the Canal and Venice have seen many an incongruous piece of flotsam, the "Crimson Tide" vessel hardly caused an extra-ripple. Until the unbelievably handsome Denzel Washington appeared and stood on the platform, triggering a tidal wave.

The reception to the film was, ahem, friendly. On screen, the submarine (below the surface) looks a bit like a beaver in a fish tank, but audiences took to the clash between the unbelievably handsome Denzel Washington and the incredibly rugged Gene Hackman set against a nuclear Holocaust threat. The following day was Kevin Costner Day. The superstar arrived on the mahogany "motoscafo" (see above), fetchingly dressed in white linen -- a must since 1932, when the Count Volpi imposed the "summer tux" (white linen jacket, black tie and shirt) as the male garb de rigueur for gala nights. Costner had come to beat the drums--or the rusted cans--for "Waterworld" (renamed "Colossal Aquatico"). At the press conference, he swore, absolutely swore, word of honor, that the epic was not a shipwreck, and that his ambition had been to "give the world a great action-adventure-fantasy movie classic". He refused to admit the film had any ecological "message", refuted the "positive hero" label that many tried to stick to his Mad-Max-on-the-Sea character, defined it--or himself?--more as a "gypsy" or a "junk collector", neither good nor bad. Costner was deemed "molto simpatico" by one and all, particularly when he recalled his first time at the Lido, ten years ago, with Kevin Reynolds's "Fandango".

"The crowd stood up as one, the standing ovation seemed never to end, it followed me as I left the theatre and escorted me all the way to the Excelsior Hotel" (about ten yards, but hey, who's counting?). "My heart was beating so fast!" Molto simpatico, indeed.

Still, "Crimson Tide" AND "Waterworld" within two days? In Venice? How redundant!

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