Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Day 2

by Howard Feinstein

Friday, August 30

Some movies here are big, some are small. Some are good, most are not. In Venice so far this year, Hollywood star power outshines the power of the movies themselves. A few small but notable cinematic gems do compensate for the disproportion, as does the presence here, as I've already written, of my best festival friend, Helen von Layers.

But first, let's bring home the Bacon: Kevin Bacon. Kevin was here to promote Sleepers. in which he plays a reformed-school guard, Nokes who regularly rapes the young teen-aged boys under his care. The role is sort of the flip side of his very gay character in JFK. Nokes is unrelentingly evil, and the film asks the question, Do people like Nokes deserve to be killed years later for their crimes?

"I had a much harder time watching Sleepers than making it," Kevin told me. he's wearing a black sports jacket over a tight black tee-shirt. "The character is so completely repulsive to me. " "I try to find some charm in every character I play. I gave up with this guy. l also didn't want to play d caricature of evil."

Does he worry that his on-screen character will appeal to peoples' worst fears about sexual abuse of children, especially men for boys? (The movie is adapted from a supposedly true story by Lorenzo Carcaterra.)

"I haven't concerned myself with the real story," he answers. "I think it's a good story, real or not. The message or the moral is the director's job. In some ways, I see myself as a hired hand."

Kevin is passionate about two things: his wife, Kyra Sedgwick (who is also mother to their two children), and not living in L.A.

"Kyra is my favorite actress. T love watching her work. I love seeing her saying her lines and doing her stuff." It's not surprising that Kyra has a role in Kevin's first film as a director, Losing Chase. "It's about a woman, played by Helen Mirren, coming Out of a mental hospital in Martha's Vineyard. She hires an au pair, played by Kyra, and they begin a quasi-love affair. Directing is natural for an actor in his 30s or 40s," he adds.

"I'm an East coast person," he offers. I find that when you're in L.A., you're so wrapped up in the movie business. The guy at the checkout counter is probably going to hand you a screenplay he's working on. Your kids go to a school, and their friends' parents are studio executives or agents. I just can't handle it. I'm not strong enough. When I got there in 1980, I started shaking. I call it the City of Fear. When I'm in New York, I feel safe."

Back to the small pearls of Venice: Arthouse distributors around the world are paying attention to a wonderfully serious and funny film from Taiwan called Buddha Bless America, directed by Wu Nien-jen, whose movie A Borrowed Life showed at international festivals a couple of years back. (He has also written many scripts for master director Hou Hsiao-hsien.)

The film tolls about a rural south Taiwanese family whose community is suddenly disrupted in the late 1960s when the American military sends tanks, men, and ammunition to practice war maneuvers on account of the war in Vietnam. Brother (Yang Tzong-hsien) is excited about the visit: He wants to find an American military doctor to sew the three fingers he lost in a factory accident back onto his hand. Granny is legs optimistic: She waves away the tanks and soldiers with a big stick, just in case they move over the grave of her dead husband. The Taiwanese military leaders are worse than the American. They intentionally screw up the communication between the local people and the Yankee visitors so that they can control their own power.

Of course, at this Hollywood-infested festival, I had to make a connection between the American "invasion" of Taiwan and the American invasion of the Venice Lido.

One side effect of the isolation you feel on this island is that you feel imprisoned The only solution is to take a vaporetto to Venice itself and have a great dinner. And this is just what Helen and I did tonight, shortly after we walked out of a screening on the American independent film, Box of Moonlight, directed by Tom De Cillo. We liked Tom's Living in Oblivion, but this story about an obsessive factory manager (John Turturro) who starts imagining things did not appeal to us: fresh seafood and pasta did.

So, along with some old pals, we hit a little restaurant that we had discovered last year, where you sit in a garden surrounded by walls with seashells and fishing nets. I had eel and polenta, she went for gnocchi with little shrimp and sea bass We sat and complained, but Helen was very excited: tomorrow. we are invited to Count Giovanni Volpi's palazzo for a buffet lunch, and it's a great place to go up to stars and pretend you've met before.

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