Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Day 5

by Howard Feinstein

Monday, September 2

Finally, risotto! Helen von Layers dragged me through the rain to a Lido restaurant specializing in this rice-like dish. I was embarrassed as she ransacked the antipasto cart, but, in the end, I'm happy when she's happy.

Liam Neeson was not so happy. The star of "Michael Collins" (the Irish political tract which was not very well received here) had to cancel all of his interviews (including mine) on account of a very nasty case of food poisoning. The word was that he had contracted it not in Venice, but on the Concorde.

Gina Gershon looked happy. You must remember her as Crystal in "Showgirls" ("Hey, darlin' "), and now she plays a lesbian again in "Bound", directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. Maybe Gina's nervous about being typecast, but Helen kept noticing how she never had her hand out of the hand of some long-haired male companion. Of course Helen, who's much more cynical than I am, made several comments about the number of times a day Gina changed her clothes. And the clothes: a dark wraparound sarong number, and some tight pants that were blinding in their multi-coloredness.

I told Helen that I had to think about more significant things, like trends in the festival's film selection. Besides pedophilia, it seems like American imperialism is also a recurring subject. Naturally, the filmmakers who take on this task are not American.

I already talked about the Taiwanese "Buddha Bless America", about American war maneuvers in the late '60s on the southern part of Taiwan. Today I saw "Carla's Song", the latest film by Britain's Ken Loach ("Land and Freedom", "Ladybird, Ladybird", "Raining Stones").

Loach, who has always made clear his leftist political agenda, tells a story set in 1987 that deals with the war between the Sandanistas and the Contras in Nicaragua. To give outsiders a cinematic point of entry, he focuses on a Scottish bus driver (Robert Carlyle, the mean guy in "Trainspotting" and the lover in Priest), who falls in love with a Nicaraguan immigrant (Oyanka Cabezas, a former dancer) in Glasgow and takes her back to her homeland.

Carlyle's nightmares shift from minor problems on his bus route to being in the center of brutal Central American battles. Loach shows the Marxist Sandanistas as good guys, the right-wing Contras as sadistic fighters who targeted civilians. The American volunteer played by Scott Glenn is Loach's mouthpiece. "The CIA runs the whole show," he tells Carlyle. "The Contras get their orders from Langley, Virginia, the headquarters of the CIA."

The film is didactic, and quaintly old-fashioned in its structure and black-and-white ideological position. Scott Glenn says that he did a lot of research that confirms the fact that the Contras did attack civilians, and that the CIA has a terrible history of helping the wrong side. And few people are as committed as Ken Loach in terms of putting on the screen such important issues.

I'm getting ready to go to a party for "Carla's Song". Unlike most of the fancy dinners for films here, this one is supposed to be as humble as the movie.

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