AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
THE 52nd INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
by Harlan Kennedy
Like city, like movie festival. Twenty-odd years ago we all tramped between the world's muddiest films and most silted-up seminars. Since then, the waters have risen spectacularly. This year's mostra must
be the most high-tide on record.
Only look at the celebrities who
were armada'd in. If you stood on any landing dock and swung a cat – dozens of these felines offer themselves for loan or hire on the
Moments of thrilling beauty illuminate Michelangelo Antonioni's Beyond the Clouds, shown out of competition: a portmanteau of short stories about the death of love, or its reluctance to be born in a world of spaces and suspicions
between the sexes. Ferrara, in the first
story, is a geometry of red roofs and white walls, of Mondrian hotel rooms and
murmuring highways, where a young
man fails to consummate his romance
with a young woman. The furthest he gets is to "caress" her
without touching: chastely, sculpturally, on the virgin hotel bed. Why? Perhaps because the memory of something unrealized lasts longer than imperfect reality. The other stories move through a like maze of colors, spaces, and metaphorical breeze-blocks: a Toytown
fishing village, a red-and-blue adulterers' love-nest, a collage of
Sometimes the too-impeccable architecture warps into parody Antonioni. We did not really need Mastroianni and Moreau recalling La notte-ish glories as an old painter and passing admirer squaring off about the crisis in aesthetics. And we regret the series of linking sequences with John Malkovich as a film director, soliloquizing indigestible apothegms as he wanders in and out of the tales. Apparently these were directed by the man who helped the stroke-stricken Antonioni make the film, generously if not always enhancingly, Wim Wenders.
bring-back-yesterday flick was the murder
thriller La Cérémonie. This may be a minor-chord work,
but so is Bach's B-Minor
"Yes, but what's it about?" someone asked me on the way out. It's about a , I said, yuk yuk (I was on sparkling form that night), as I marched over the indefinable to the next press show. Actually, of course, La Cérémonie is about the presence of madness in the most strictly monitored ménages, and of death in the most well-fortified lives.
The best newer-generation movies at
So Portugal's A comedia de Deus (Comedy
of God) is an erratically hilarious
chamber epic in
which "don't touch" sex shades into
heavy-duty fetishism, with director-star Joao Cesar
a cross, between Nosferatu and Woody Allen as he pores over the album
containing his pubic hair collection and ogles his nymphet ice cream parlor customers. Tomás
Gutiérrez Alea's Guantanamera is a road movie in which a
trucker and a schoolteacher try to
refuel bygone romance amid the encircling traffic of funeral coffins. (Love plus bureaucratic satire.). And in Tran Anh Hung's Cyclo (Xich Lo), love and death in that urban Hades called
The lyricism of Tran's The Scent of Green Papaya has here turned into portentous pessimism; still, we gasp at the images' beauty even while lamenting their misappropriation by awful-warning generality. This is one of those pix wherein the main characters come dressed as sonorous abstractions: The Poet, The Mother, etc. That Cyclo ended up winning the Golden Lion only shows how desperate that beast was to find a gifted artistic eye in a competition short on great lenswork.
The renaissance of British and Anglo-Irish
cinema, which seemed loud and
Meanwhile, Gerald Stembridge gave us
in staging but attractively
unnerving in its look at human passion inside and outside marriage. A martinet soldier-husband (Andrew Connolly)
drills his wife into a routine of obedience and servitude – she even has a "Standing Orders Book" to consult over
do's and don'ts in everything from cleaning
to shopping – before releasing his own psychosis in rape and murder. And Kenneth Branagh
This is a sort of luvvies' Hell, saved by
bits of roughhewn comedy heaven. A dozen
no-hope actors "put on a show right
here" in a rural church. It's Hamlet, and during run-throughs they run through what
must be the entire contents of
the Actors' Gag Thesaurus. John
Sessions camps it up as a gay "Queen,"
Polonius cannot tell his arras from
his elbow, and the fog machine turns
Venice, of course, is a difficult place to show movies. Nature and architecture always have something better. None of Italy's homegrown pix matched the skies over the Adriatic, whose Tiepolo cloudscapes – blazing bouquets of silver, pink, and copper poised above a blushing, scintillant sea – heartened us as we slouched towards the Sala Perla each night to be reborn. Just think: We used to look to maestri like Visconti, whose Senso was reshown to the usual gasps, for world-leading visuals. Now we gloomed at Marco Tullio Giordano's Pasolini: un delitto italiano ( ... An Italian Crime), a docudrama inquest into the poet-filmmaker's death as dull as mourning weeds; or at Ettore Scola's Romanzo di un giovane povero (Story of a Poor Young Man), a trudgy cop plot wasting the comic scenes with Alberto Sordi as a would-be wife-murderer; or at Giuseppe Tornatore's L'Uomo delle stelle (The Man of Stars), which staggers round postwar Sicily trying to revive the charms of Cinema Paradiso in the tale of a carpetbagging cameraman who sells "screen tests." Lovely setting; molto tedioso plot.
The main innovation at Venice '95 was the presence of several "works in
progress." This dangerous, exciting gimmick has been tried at Cannes; Apocalypse Now and The Mission, you
recall, were both Golden Palm'd even though unfinished.
Critics are flattered out of their minds by this. It suggests their reactions might actually matter to a film's maker, instead of being dismissed as the whimpers of a eunuch or misanthrope. The standards of the unfinished pix were variable, and so is my advice. To the director of Jade: Dear Bill, pay Joe Eszterhas another million to get off the project, and have the sex'n'murder shenanigans rewritten by someone less content to recycle Basic Instinct and Sliver. To the director of The Pillow Book: Dear Peter, I couldn't get into your film owing to a life-threatening scrimmage outside the Sala Volpi; also to your on-the-spot publicist's decision to pick out favored British newspaper critics for screening admission. Since this was a screening theoretically open to all accredited critics, this smacks suspiciously of Control Freak Behavior.
Two knockout works-in-progress I did see were Oleg Kovalov's Sergej Ejstenstejn: Avtbiografia (so spelt) and Vassily Silovic's Orson Welles: One Man Band.
The first knits a
Kovalov gives us early-century
Films about films always have a magic. Orson Welles knew that cinema was a hall of mirrors and gave us one, mockingly disguised as a plot development, in The Lady from
One Man Band gives us
yet more undiscovered Welles footage. Some of it could have stayed undiscovered. His Merchant of Venice,
shot on the run on the Dalmatian coast as well as here in Venezia, looks like Othello without the fire. And his multi-impersonation comic travelogue set in
Set against this are two haunting scenes from his late, uncompleted Isak Dinesen project The Dreamers: a concerto for shadows with Welles and Kodar glinting among them like jewels. And Orson the actor is heartbreakingly good in the one-man Moby Dick that he had begun filming (we kid you not) with a backdrop and a couple of klieg lights.
Welles would have been in his element at this fest. Venice '95 left us happy, frustrated, confused, bombarded – and without a clue as to what Venice '96 will bring; let alone Planet Cinema at large as we say ciao to its first hundred years from the city that, half a century ago, had the temerity to found the first festival in its honor.
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 1995 ISSUE OF FILM COMMENT.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.