Film Scouts Diaries

1995 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Venice Diary - Day 4

by Daniele Heymann

Controversy, at last! A real one, that erupted like a bubble of acid on the surface of the laguna's sleepy waters. Films have taken a back seat, every conversation is dotted with phrases like, "It's a declaration of war, Pure and simple!" (for the moment it's just a War of Communiqués, there are no casualties yet, thank you.) "It's been raging for quite a while!" "It was bound to happen!" So it did. But what, exactly, "happened"?

It all started when the Festival schedule a press screening, at the Volpi Theatre, of "Fare un film è per me vivere" ("Making a Movie Is For Me To Live"), a 52-minute documentary by Enrica Fico Antonioni on the making of "Beyond the Clouds" which, co-directed by Wim Wenders ("Wings of Desire"), marks the return to filmmaking of legendary director Michelangelo Antonioni ("L'Avventura", "Blow Up") after fourteen years of absence (and a stroke). Its gala presentation was to be the event to end all events, artistically, emotionally, affectively.

Queuing is the Mostra's favorite sport: you line up to book your seats for tomorrow's screenings, you line up in the morrow to get the tickets booked yesterday, you line up to get into theatres... As the thousands of journalists covering the Festival were patiently waiting outside the Sala Volpi in the longest line the Mostra has known in recent memory, a boisterous party elbowed and punched its way through the crowd and, claiming they were "Friends of the production", occupied eighty of the hundred and two available seats. Shouts led to fistfights, a scribe shouted "Idiots!"--a far tamer epithet, wouldn't you say, than "assholes"--and was roughly taken by the "carabinieri" to the nearest Precinct.

Anger subsided when a Festival official promised there would be another screening of Ms. Antonioni's documentary. That was canceled when the Head Office, the Biennale, decided it couldn't afford it. At that point, Gillo Pontecorvo, the sweet, affable, and eminently courteous director of the Mostra, grabbed the bull (and the Biennale) by the horns. Before introducing Michelangelo Antonioni surrounded by his entire cast and crew at the most attended press conference ever, Pontecorvo read a much applauded communiquÈ which almost amounted to a declaration of war: "I understand that the budget of the Mostra was this year drastically cut. I understand that Italy's economy is in a difficult situation. I understand that financing schools and hospitals is a top priority. Nevertheless, it is the obsolete, bureaucratic statute of the Biennale that prevents us most from doing our job. I demand, we demand, that the statute be revised, that the Biennale be privatized and become a Foundation. I don't mind swimming in order not to sink, but let it be water I swim in, not mercury."

A few hours later, a communiqué was released, unsigned, on the Biennale letter-headed stationery. "Mr. Pontecorvo's lamentations were certainly not triggered by budget cuts or understaffing but more likely, as the constantly delayed screenings attest, by the programming incompetence of one of his closest collaborators." The following two paragraphs dealt with the famous statute --"the fruit of the '60s"-- which, "despite some possible defects", aims to have everyone "abide by the norms that regulate institutions subsidized with public funds." Stay tuned...

After "Crimson Tide" and "Waterworld", Ron Howard's "Apollo 13" was the third "g,teau" to come out of the Hollywood pastry shop. Technically flawless, and totally devoid of suspense --since the outcome is known. To recall the commotion and emotion felt at the time, I went back to the "Corriere Della Sera" of April 15, 1970, in which renowned novelist Diego Buzzati wrote: "What touches and overwhelms us... is the incredible duration of the uncertainty, which threatens to last many days longer; it is the terrifying distance that separates us from the three men drifting in an appallingly alien, nay, hostile, almost inconceivable world; it is the dialogue between Earth and the intrepid vessel that might turn into a grave... "I wish to say that Lovell, Haise and Swigert are no longer soldiers and citizens of the United States. Facing the immensity of space, they are the messengers of all men, white, yellow, black or red, scattered on our minuscule planet. For aren't we all, somehow, responsible? Isn't it our dreams, our fantasies, our hopes, our ambition, our pride that sent them into space...? And shouldn't we, therefore, pray for them to survive?"

In a lively press conference, Tom Hanks, remarkable as Jim Lovell (who also, discreetly, attended the Festival), amusingly recalled the shooting of the "gravity-less" scenes. "After the morning's 'flight', I was tired; after the second session, I was a wreck. At the end of the day, I felt like mashed potatoes." Far from a scoop of mashed potatoes, Hanks is an intelligent actor who knows "Apollo 13" will probably not add to his Awards closet. Better have AIDS ("Philadelphia"), better be a simple-minded dolt ("Forrest Gump") than portray a fearless American Hero, such seemed to be his own, lucid, conclusion. "I am happy to have played Lovell, even if I know it's not the kind of part that makes you a shoe-in for an nomination. It doesn't matter whether you've won two Academy Awards: acting while floating in a tin can, with your hands shaking, and the sweat, and the residue of previous nausea... I'd challenge anyone, in such circumstances, to give a stellar performance."

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