Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Report #1

by Daniele Heymann

VENICE - Controversies, foul weather, a disastrous opening night... On August 27, the 54th Mostra di Venezia hit the ground, well, limping. In the weeks preceding the event, its new director, Felice Laudadio, 52, a respected film critic whose "latin charm" is legendary among women journalists worldwide, had made several virtuous and reassuring statements. He wanted "his" Festival to be "serious, rigorous, involved" ; the "film d'auteur" would be center stage; no, he would not yield to the demands of the star system.

The international jury he assembled to judge the 19 films in competition was, indeed, serious, rigorous, involved. Presided by New Zealand-born filmmaker Jane ("The Piano") Campion, it included four other directors : Vera Belmont (France), Nana Djordjadze (Georgia), Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina Fasso), Francesco Rosi (Italy) and Shjnya Taukamoto (Japan) ; a critic, Peter Buchka (Germany) ; a screenwriter, Ron Bass (USA) ; and an actress, Charlotte Rampling (UK).

As soon as you get to the Lido, a tiny island a short motoscafo ride from Venice, the 54th Mostra poster literally hits you in your heart : it shows actor Marcello Mastroianni, who died last December, and to whom the Festival is dedicated. A young Marcello, infinitely melancholy, infinitely seductive with a wild lock of hair cockily falling on his forehead, his two hands parted in front of him almost in an apologetic farewell. A frame of Marcello at the end of Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" : the rendition is magnificent.

As is the long version of Anna-Maria Tato's documentary "I Remember, Yes, I Remember". The last Cannes Film Festival presented a less-than-two-hours montage of this intimate portrait which Tato, the actor's last compagnion for 22 years, shot in 1996 in Portugal on the set of Manoel de Oliveira's "Journey to the Beginning of the World". Strangely, the "long" version (over three hours) feels shorter than the "short" version, enriched as it is with numerous clips from the 170 films Mastroianni appeared in through his decades-long career. Masterpieces as well as forgettable flicks. No sterile chronology here, but an author and his subject gleefully playing hooky with memory. Rumor has it that "Mi Ricordo..." might represent Italy at the next Oscars.

But lets get back to opening night. Jean-Michel Frodon's report in French daily Le Monde sums it up best - and deals it the most ferocious blow. "Confusion mixed with dismissiveness twixt amicable chaos and sheer rudeness... A celebration Hickville wouldn't dare put on in a barnyard... Who wants to watch on television a predictable and graceless chain of events culminating, as it were, in speeches from an apparatchick and a bureaucrat..  (...) Maybe Woody Allen should have come : the inaugural ceremony could have inspired him for one of those officia-functions scenes which - more, and better than anyone - he knows how to turn into pure comedy."

The Woodman "almost came"; unfortunately, you see, he's just started shooting his new film (*quel* timing !) With "Deconstructing Harry,"  however, he is the King of the Lido for several days in a row. No doubt the debate will resume about how autobiographical his films are, as he plays a creatively blocked "auteur" (a tribute to "8 _"'s Fellini), Jewish, of course, hypocondriac, and in full matrimonial conflict.

"I know, it's impossible for me to convince the audience that I'm not Harry," Allen says in an interview with Italian daily Il Corriere Della Sera, "since I am considered an embodiment of the New York-Jewish-slightly mad intellectual. But what can I do ? Whatever the part, the audience always "recognizes" me in it. Apparently, for a while, I was the young sister in "Interiors". But the moment she appeared, I was also Geraldine Page. It doesn't matter whether the film is pleasant or not, they always identify me with whoever they want."

They all went wild about "Harry" (and Woody, for that matter). The Italian critics fall head over heels for Judy Davis, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. They blame the movie for one thing, though : "As far as the Mostra is concerned," writes Tullio Kesich in the Corriere Della Sera, "'Deconstructing Harry' sets the standards so high that all the films to be shown can only suffer in comparison."

How prophetic.

The local critics were more reserved about "Wild Man Blues", the documentary Barbara Kopple made on Woody Allen's European tour with his jazz band. Among other things, the film shows Woody and Soon Yi in Venice, at night, on a gondola, on a deserted canal, with Woody wondering, "What if the gondolier was a serial killer ?" "The film spares no barbs vis-à-vis a country whose only capital sin is to adore him," whines a vexed fan. Come on, guys, a barb is just a barb not a stab - particularly when it's so funny.

And so there were other films, some of them quite interesting. A gleeful exploration of female pleasure, Benoît Jacquot's "Septième Ciel" ("Cloud Nine"), starring Sandrine Kiberlain and Vincent Lindon, sends the French press corps in a wild spin to... cloud nine. The rest of the media is, remain more, ahem, measured. Some Italian scribes speak of Michelangelo Antonioni's "influence", although, I am afraid, not quite favorably.

Presented in various sidebars, two family-hell pictures make our day. Based on a novel by Russell Banks, Paul Schrader's "Affliction" is impressive in the way it contrasts New Hampshire deceptively calm landscapes and the retelling, in flash-backs, of the traumatic childhood experienced by the character played by Nick Nolte. According to Schrader, "the film dives into the deep waters of family violence, revealing the dark soul of American males, and the transmission from generation to generation of the same rage, leading to the same frustrations, the same affliction."

The action of John Patrick Kelley's "The Locusts" takes place in Kansas, where the director was born in 1964. It features the stifling south, a castrating mother (Kate Capshaw), a fragile son practically driven to suicide (Jeremy Davies), but also Vince Vaughn, a handsome drifter whose athletic torso is suggestively delineated (enhanced ?) by a tight t-shirt (did you say Brando ?). Quite a promising director, this John Patrick Kelley, seems to be the general consensus.

Controversies. Before the Festival opened, Italian entry "I Vesuviani" a five-episode film, each helmed by a representative of the new Neapolitan School movement, is violently attacked by National Alliance, the neo-fascist party, that demands that the film be banned. The incriminating episode is the one directed by the leader of the Neapolitan School, the very talented Mario Martone. "The Trek" shows Antonio, a mayor of Naples (actor Toni Sorvillo) in full official regalia, slowly, painfully climbing up the slope of the volcano. Through various encounters, including one with a crow that speaks in Pasolini riddles, he realizes the predicament his city is in, and the deep disenchantment the left is in the socio-political spectrum. National Alliance deemed the film but "an electoral pamphlet" aiming at the reelection, next November, of the incumbent left-wing mayor of Naples, whose first name happens to be Antonio. The neo-fascist party sued. The case was dismissed.

Next Installment

Back to Venice Film Festival Diaries

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.