Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Report #3

by Daniele Heymann

VENICE - Asia again. And a major disappointment. Wayne Wang's "Chinese Box" is more like Pandora's box. The worst "great idea" of the year. How tempting it was, though, for a Hong Kong native to use the last months before the "restitution" to China of the (now former) British protectorate to wrap, as it were, this extraordinary set around a metaphorical love story (scripted by Jean-Claude Carrière), that of an English journalist who is dying despite the love of a beautiful Chinese woman that is also courted by a Hong Kong businessman... Nothing works. Neither Jeremy Irons's palor (he met with exactly the same death in Bernardo Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty" - time for him to play someone *healthy* !). Nor Gong Li's hieratic perplexity bordering on absence. Nor Maggie Cheung's scarred punkette. The film remains cold, artificial, superficially exotic, not particularly interesting.

A meager consolation, perhaps, but maybe Paul Auster's contribution to the success of "Smoke" was more important than one thought ? Speaking of which : in Venice to present the frighteningly humanoids cockroaches (don't ask) that co-star with her in Guillermo Del Toro's intelligent horror movie, "Mimic", Mira Sorvino announces she will play the lead in Paul Auster's directorial debut. "'Lulu on the Bridge'" (a reference to actress Louise Brooks' most celebrated rôle) "is a romantic story tinged with magic realism.) It also stars Vanessa Redgrave and Harvey Keitel.

Sly Stallone makes quite a splash at the "Cop Land" press conference. Basically, Rocky denies everything : his brilliant career built on sheer muscle, the violence in his films, and his characters' über-human powers. "Rambo is dead," he announces, "and I, for one, am not gonna weep him. From now on, my role model is Freddy" (the cop he plays in "Cop Land") : fat, half deaf, unlucky in love &endash; a loser."

What on earth provoked this radical self-reassessment ? "My turning 50, the birth of my daughter and her heart condition." ... " I had stopped being an actor, I was but a special effect", he adds, almost in tears. "These last eleven years, I've lived like a libertine, a guy who was not serious. I used my privileges in the worst possible way, obtuse, selfish. I had to hit the bottom to realize it would be sheer madness to continue living the same way. So, when I heard of 'Cop Land', I begged (director) James Mangold, who didn't want me at all, to take me, to give me the chance to turn the page."

An acerbic comment from an Italian journalist : "If this is just a strategy to promote 'Cop Land', the confession is a bit excessive."

The last stretch toward the Awards ceremony. The longest yard. As usual in competitive festivals, we pity "those poor jurors locked up in a suite, having to decide, such a hard choice, don't you think ?" And as usual, we wage our bets as to who is going to win. The Japanese film, "Hana-Bi", is still favorite.

Meanwhile, some statistics. These may be the last hours of its 54th edition, but, at the age of 60, the Venice Mostra is the oldest festival in the world. It was born in 1932, the few screenings took place on the terrace of the Excelsion Hotel. From 1934 to 1942, the main award was the Mussolini Cup, or Cups, since one was given to an Italian picture and the other to a foreign one. It's only in 1950 that the Lion on the Piazza San Marco came to symbolize the Venice award.

Since the end of World War 2, the country most awarded in Venice has been France, with eleven top prizes, including Henri-George Clouzot's "Manon Des Sources" (1949), Louis Malle's "Au Revoir Les Enfants" (1987), films by Agnes Varda, Alain Resnais, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, Krzysztof Kieslowski. The runner-up is Italy, with eight prizes. The United States won only twice : in 1980 with John Cassavetes' "Gloria" and in 1993, with Robert Altman's "Short Cuts".

At last... Closing night. Bordering on the disaster. No major star around to give - or take - the awards. Offered a "Life Achievement Golden Lion" (but everyone knows he'll never show up), Stanley Kubrick sends an embarrassed telegram concerning Nicole Kidman who, co-starring with her husband Tom Cruise in the master's new film, "Eyes Wide Shut", was to come and collect the award in his stead. "I am sorry that unforeseen problems have prevented Nicole Kidman to reach the London Airport after Princess Diana's funeral in order to attend the closing night ceremony of the Venice Mostra."

Italian Television immediately cancels the planned live broadcast; maybe later in the evening there will be some sort of sumup. A member of the RAI board, director Liliana Cavani ("Night Porter") goes ballistic. So much so that the RAI network relents : alright, it will be broadcast live. Did anybody say it would be broadcast whole ? Or occupy the entire time slot originally allotted to it ? A frazzled anchor drags the less-than-half-of-the-winners attending in and out of the stage at the speed of lightning. Next ! Next ! No speeches, no thank yous, not a peep. We all hope we're experiencing a collective hallucination &endash; we ain't .

But the awards list is a pleasant surprise. Starting from the lowest rung :

x -The Gold Medal of the President of the Senate, given to the film "that best illuminates civil progress and human solidarity" goes to "Vor" ("The Thief") by Russian director Pavel Cuchraj. It takes place in the 1950s USSR, it is the portrait of a childhood, it features a fabulous young actor, Misa Filipcuck.

x - The Silver Medal of the Prime Minister is given to Anna Maria Tato for her magnificent documentary on Marcello Mastroianni (out of competition)

x - Wayne Wang's "Chinese Box" gets a Gold Coin ("Oscella D'Oro") for Best Original Score. The music was written by Australian composer Graeme Revell, who also wrote the soundtracks for "Boxing Helena", "The hand that Rocked the Cradle" and "The Saint".

x - The Gold Coin for Best cinematography goes to Emmanuel Machuel for the very dark photography of the very dark Portuguese film, "Ossos", by Pedro Costa.

x - The Gold Coin for Best original script is given to Gilles Taurand and Anne Fontaine for "Dry Cleaning", featuring Miou-Miou and Charles Berling as the dry-cleaners from a small town, and a stunning young man playing a very Pasolinian angel, Stanislas Mehar

x - 't is in absentia that Wesley Snipes gets the Best Actor Volpi Cup for his performance in Mike Figgis's strong melodrama, "One Night Stand". A happy executive (yes, there is such a thing, Virginia) in an ad agency who finds himself stranded in New York overnight, falls into Nastassja Kinski's arms (and bed). A year later, when he rushes to the side of a friend (Robert Downey Jr.) who is dying of AIDS, he discovers that his friend's companion is none other than Nastassja... Love, race and AIDS. Themes, with a capital T.

x - For her performance as the Tourette Syndrome autist in 34-year-old Bob Gosse's "Niagara, Niagara", the Best actress Volpi Cup is awarded to Robin Tunney (who *is* present).

x - A rather unexpected, but quite simpatico, Grand Jury Special Prize is given to "Ovosodo" by Livorno-born Paolo Virzi. It is the simple, but rich, story of a boy, from his birth to his first child. It's energetic, talky, touching, a happy return to the Italian comedy of the Golden Age. The jury emphasizes its "power, depth, and humor .»

x - The Golden Lion. Finally. Guess what ? Guess who ? "Hana-Bi". Kitano jumps on the stage, the audience gives a standing ovation, the emcee hands him the microphone, he grabs it and starts talking... in Japanese. Bummer. Have we got an interpreter ? Er... Could he say a few words in English ? He tries. He is so totally incomprehensible that he cracks up and nearly collapses laughing. Quel merry mess !

As for the Mafia musical, "Trano di Morire" gets a whole bunch of awards. One of which, the Luigi de Laurentiis has $100,000 attached to it. Looking more than ever like a clergyman, director Wim Wenders comes on stage with the check in his hand. Unfortunately, the winner, director Roberta Torre, simply forgot to come...

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