AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
by Harlan Kennedy
The Amaro spills from my hand; the dictaphone receives undeleted expletives of outrage. The FNYN person has his facts right but his question apocalyptically wrong. There have been many American films at
This was the 50th
Numero uno: The prestigious Venice "Critics Week" severed itself from the main fest in protest at one Gian Luigi Rondi's appointment to head the overall Arts Biennale. Ex – film critic Rondi is a Christian Democrat culture potentate who ran the filmfest itself for several unforgettably dreary years. The Critics Week holed up, fist-wavingly, in a little lagoonside cinema resembling a broom cupboard designed by Torquemada.
Due: The Mostra
Del Cinema's own budget was slashed thanks to
Tre: Then Ponty himself had this mega-mega-brainstorm about inviting a bedazzlement of international directors (approx. 120) to participate in a two-day Assise Degli Autori (Auteurs' Think Tank) about authors' rights in the cinema.
All this meant there was less money for movies and less still
for movie journalists. Four nights'
hospitality maximum each; and, as
usual, none for Film Comment, whose
tented accommodation on the beach
has become a much-loved annual sight. This year my Jill accompanied
me and did the catering (Nantucket-style charcoal fish bake), and though jury
invitee Barbra Streisand was asked to munch, she did not, in the event, get to
The moral is this: the Famous
Everyone (but the FNYN) knows that European cinema is in crisis today and that Far Western cinema, with a little help from the
So: The Age of Innocence, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Snake Eyes, A Bronx Tale, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, topped off with Jurassic Park, The Fugitive, and the early hot tip for Golden Lion, Altman's majestical-mosaical Short Cuts. Not to mention – but try and stop us – the comedy revelation of the Mostra, Fred Allen plus all-star cast in Richard Wallaces hilarious, Hellzapoppin-ish It's in the Bag. Okay, so the film's 50 years old and the all-star cast includes Jack Benny, William Bendix, and Rudy Vallee. It still made a photo finish with Woody Allen's sprint-heeled comeback.
The non American movies had to hustle, and at least three of then did. (Stakhanovism works.) Those were Krzysztof Kieślowski's Blue, Maria Luis, Bemberg's De eso no se habla (I Don't Want to Talk About It), and Rolf De Heer's Bad Boy Bubby.
Blue, a French-Polish psychodrama seems to be all about Juliette Binoche coming apart at the seams after sudden widowhood: husband and daughter have been killed in car accident. Lots of jagged edits, music crashes, sudden fadeouts. But really the film – a masterpiece – is all about life's habit of performing mischievous, uninvited invisible-mending on apparently repair-proof wounds. Every move Binoche makes to snip away her past merely helps to firm up the fresh stitching. Hoping to expel the memory of motherhood, she finds a twee, nightmarish litter of baby rats in her junk-room. Though she throws her composer spouse's last music manuscript into a garbage van, the sounds follow her everywhere she goes, jumping right of the pulped pages. And images of Rebound and Recycle sustain the film's leitmotif of absurdist resilience: from the glimpse of an old lady trying to push a bottle into a street bottle-bank, to the images of bungee-jumpers flickering surreally on her retirement-home mom's TV
Kieślowski is modern cinema's great prestidigitator: a humanist disguised as misanthrope, a black magician who pulls a smiling white rabbit from his hat just when you're calling for the exorcist. Maria Luisa Bemberg comes from a different conjuring tradition: Magical Realism. Down Argentine way in I Don't) Want to Talk About It, another widow (Luisina Brando) is having another crisis. Her 2-year-old daughter Carlotta will never fully "grow up" to be 6-foot-6 in stilettos since she's a midget. In a frantic fret on realizing this, Senora Brando goes round town bashing up every plaster dwarf she can see and burning copies of Snow White.
I Don't Want to Talk About It itself grows up to be a fully formed black comedy. Once Marcello Mastroianni, that well-known Argentinean, rolls into town to charm everyone off their perches, this provincial parrot cage of a town comes alive with gossip, scandal, and curiosity. And when Marcello himself falls in love with the vertically challenged, now-teenage young lady – his face lights up with a special-effect blue glow when he sees her riding his own gift of a palomino – the wedding and its subsequent disasters are just a matter of time.
As in Miss Mary and I, the Worst of All, Bemberg treats human folly with a gleaming insouciance, as just another pattern in life's rich Aubusson. Her camera moves with connoisseur stealth like an expert at a furniture auction, and she surely learned her gnomic mise-en-scène from Bunuel. L.B. (the Spanish one) would have loved such deadpan set-pieces as the death of the mayor, who expires unobserved in mid-wedding and is later shoved into a bath full of ice blocks so as not to embarrass the other guests.
The fest's other masterclass in
poker-faced surrealism was Rolf De Heer's Bad Boy Bubby, which got the Special Grand Jury Prize. This
is out of
Once on the lam, our hero's "innocence" – blinding him to moral caveats and social hypocrisies alike – becomes a multimegaton weapon aimed at everyone he meets. Salvation Army platoon; rock band; thermonuclear scientist with line in hortatory atheism ("Fuck you, God!"); and group of (real) cerebral palsy victims. Director De Heer wouldn't recognize good taste if it fell off a tall building and brained him. But Bad Boy Bubby's bad taste offers something richer: a horror-comic delight in primal story colors and a Candide-like logic in showing the effects of runaway innocence on a defenseless world.
If only this film's rude clarity had shocked some sense into
Survived those? Then off you go to Bertrand Blier's Un, Deux, Trois, Soleil (France), Joao Botelho's Aqui
na terra (Here
on Earth, Portugal), Fabio
Carpi's La prossima
volta il fuoco (The Fire Next Time, Italy), Carlos Saurâs ¡Dispara! (Shoot!,
as Week Two began, the air corridors
Basically, we preservers of the flame get the following: The creation of an International High Court (yes, high court!) for the Freedom of Cinema and the Audio Visual Arts. Several proposed changes to GATT legislation designed to keep American film and television product off European screens. And about one million clauses and subclauses, read out to a semistupefied audience many of whom only wanted to hear Spielberg's wind-up speech. Master Steven finally rose, recalled his first long-ago meeting with Ponty ("There was once a young American filmmaker. . ."), and then produced from nowhere a Golden Lion. This was the actual jungle cat Ponty himself won back in '66 for The Battle of Algiers and later auctioned off for the cause of Artists' Rights. The purchaser was a young Mr. Spielberg. "Now I'm returning it to you, Gillo!" said Spielberg at the triumphant culmination of his speech; whereupon Gillo, looking up absently from the conference desk, said, "No, no, you keep it."
Of such stuff are great festival fiascos made. You wouldn't hear this story later: all the official fest-bulletins said the Lion had been graciously given and accepted. That same night, Steven himself got a Lion from Gillo for career achievement. Then he returned to the Jurassic Suite at Hotel Cipriani for an evening's well-deserved press evasion.
And for the real Lion, the one that savages the best film and director, that waited
until the final Saturday. We're almost
there, but first let me mention one other thing that roared at
Goodness me, it's on Saturday, September 11,
and time for the best films to be fed to the Lions in the Arena. Here come Gillo and Lady Gillo to announce the Leone d'Oro.
And it goes to – Krzysztof Kieślowski for Blue ex aequo with Robert Altman for Short Cuts.
proves himself once more a Pole apart: the man keeping European cinema alive even in the midst of death. As for Altman, from Lion's Gate to Golden Lion is a shortcut for a filmmaker but a giant step for a festival that's spent so many years being rude about
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE NOV-DEC 1993 ISSUE OF FILM COMMENT.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.