Film Scouts Diaries

1995 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Venice Diary - Day 2

by Daniele Heymann

For a live TV special on the 52d Mostra d'Arte Cinematofrafico, along with the usual assortment of starlets, opinionated critics and loquacious officials, Italian television had invited a sketch artist. Throughout the lighthearted, effusive, sometimes passionate conversations, the man kept mum, sketching in a corner of the set. At the end of the program, the effeverscent anchordamsel asked him to show his drawing to the camera. He did, and silence fell on the set. The drawing showed a seagull perched on a life-saver in the midst of an ocean looking, perplexed, at a sign with two arrows pointing in opposite directions. One arrow read "Film Festival", the other "Bomb Festival". The Ocean was the Adriatica Sea, It bathes the sands of Venice, usually gray, now aglitter with the Stars attending the Mostra; it also bathes the bloodied sands of the former Yugoslavia. So faraway, so close...

Sarajevo is on everyone's mind. On September 1st, The Mayor of Venice, Mr. Massimo Cacciari, and the Board of the Mostra decided that for the first time in the Festival's history, the closing night ceremony, scheduled for September 9 on the Piazza San Marco, would be a paying event, and its proceeds go to Sarajevo. That very night, in the Grande Sala (the Main Theatre), a man in grey got a standing ovation that lasted a good seven minutes. No, it wasn't Kevin Costner, but Tarik Kupusovic, the mayor of Sarajevo. In tears, Gillo Pontecorvo, head of the Venice Film Festival, told him that the Italian and foreign filmmakers present at the Festival had unanimously decided to undertake two projects immediately: the rebuilding of a film theatre in Sarajevo, and the creation of a Film Archive gathering all films and visual documents pertaining to, and shot during, the war that has torn his city for three-and-a-half years. The mayor expressed his gratitude, said that never had peace been so close. The audience gracefully pretended to believe him.

It takes all kinds. While the film community expressed its solidarity with the battered Bosnian city, Tinto Brass, the soft-porn king (remember "Caligula", with Malcolm McDowell?) landed at the Lido on a boat dangerously overloaded with the nine "actors" of his new film (not shown in Venice), "Fermo Posta". Nine more than generously fleshed creatures wearing suggestive lingerie two sizes too tight for their ample bosoms and buttocks. Originally, the creatures were to sail in a gondola from the Rio delle Vergine (Street of the Virgins) in Venice onto the Lido. The gondoliers' union refused, which infuriated Tinto Brass: "Gondolas were used by Casanova and Byron for all sorts of wicked tricks," he claimed. Was it not because of them that gondolas were nicknamed 'floating alcoves?'" Hype, oh hype! What foul deeds are, in thy name, committed!

On the same day--Friday, September 1-- while, despite protests, demonstrations, threats and the beginning of an embargo on its hallowed products (such as wine), France announced its decision to resume its nuclear tests in Polynesia, crowds were fighting to get into the small theatre on the Lido where Michel Daëron's "Moruroa, The Big Secret" was screened. In Tahitian, "Moruroa" means "The big secret", it possibly refers to the secret that surrounded the quasi miraculous concentration of fish around the atoll. But when it came to the islet in 1963 to start its series of 165 nuclear tests--first above, then underground--the French Army inadvertently misspelled its name. A highly symbolic slip of the pen, as it were: With one single letter changed--"Mururoa" instead of "Moruroa"-- the word lost its meaning and the "secret" remained well kept.

The film is neither violent nor didactic. It presents itself as a soft-spoken documentary--though appearances belie the truth. One sees a joyful child, laughing despite his awfully distorted body. One hears a few--very few--Tahitians say that the atom has killed many of their friends, that they themselves are "ill" (but they don't name their illness), that fish, their daily food, may also be their daily poison. One sees flowers in magnificent landscapes and "vahinés" dance for the sailors on a plane-carrier... At the end of the screening, flanked by a member of Greenpeace Italy wearing a T-shirt that read "Ban French Nuclear Tests", director Michel Daëron revealed that since 1963, France had suspended (taking? recording? publishing?) all health statistics in the area...

With a soft voice, Daëron detailed the pressures he was submitted to during the shoot, the attempts by the French Secret Service to intimidate the witnesses, the various difficulties he has encountered since production was completed. The film was banned in 1993, immediately after its first and only broadcast on the Franco-German channel, Arte, which had co-produced it. And on the floor of the French House of Representatives, Mr. François Léotard, then-Minister of Defense, called "Moruroa, The Big Secret" "a dirty trick against France." Whether the nuclear tests were a dirty trick against Polynesia did not appear to be a major preoccupation. And here, perhaps, is one of cinema's missions: to ask the real questions.

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