AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
VENICE 2015 – THE 72ND MOSTRA DEL CINEMA
LIONS AT MIDNIGHT
by Harlan Kennedy
Dedicated to the late Orson Welles, a genius at 100
It’s All True
There is nowhere like it on Earth. And perhaps it isn’t Earth
anyway, this place, this
Nothing is ordinary here. For openers there were spectacle, drama
and high emotion in EVEREST 3D. The
first night glitterati – those Gucci-swathed masses yearning to free their
imaginations – could gaze up from a low-lying Adriatic sandspit
at people doing heroics at Earth’s highest point. It was like GRAVITY
Snowstorms; avalanches; sense-socking camerawork. The truth-based
story of guides and climbers caught in the mother of blizzards on the
grandmother of mountains had a starry cast looking for gale-ful employment. Jake Gyllenhaal; Josh Brolin; Jason
Clarke; John Hawkes. (To audition, your first name had to start with J).
William GLADIATOR Nicholson and Simon FULL MONTY Beaufoy’s
script doesn’t always reach the location’s bracing heights. But visually you
never felt so smack-damn in the snack basket of Mama Nature, waiting to be
gnawed or gobbled by whatever weather whims she unleashes. The chopper work
alone, with the Dolomites sometimes standing in for
Another location for the un-squeamish this year was
Casts to dream of don’t make either film a sogno d’oro. BLACK MASS is a noir-licked limpalong energised mainly by Aussie actor Joel Edgerton.
He does a
Film festivals often behave like Noah’s
Russia also chipped in with a critics’ favourite in the
competition. You could call FRANCOFONIA a second ‘war documentary.’ Aleksandr Sokurov won the 2011
Venice Golden Lion with FAUST, but we’re a long way here from Goethe, Marlowe
or fancy-dress morality drama. Or are we? It’s 1940. The Nazis are invading
That’s just one layer. Sokurov himself
mediates Prospero-like in a darkened study, narrating the soundtrack while magicking forth the movies-within-movie, which also
include stormy-symbolic scenes of a ship bearing undefined museum treasures
into the squalls of, let’s say, oceanic history. FRANCOFONIA carries its
complexity lightly. It’s impish, antic and all over the place: exactly like a
vessel tipping this way, that way, on a high sea. But the destination remains
clear; the beckoning beacon is bright. Good and heroic deeds – like the
FRANCOFONIA was an early critics’ favourite and was soon joined by
another. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s ANOMALISA – that’s that Kaufman
who wrote BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND – is
an edgy comedy-noir with a hint of futurism and more than a hint of, ahem,
adult content. There’s a sex scene in a
Here’s the difference: they’re stop-motion puppets. ANOMALISA is an anime with a joy in its own aberrant form and format. Best in fest for me; which is why you can find a fuller discussion in an adjoining feature.
Journey Into Fear
Venice goers also took a mighty shine to Pablo Trapero’s
EL CLAN from
The film exerts its power like a torturer’s third-degree light. We hardly dare to look – or we squint and wince as we do – as the hostages-to-be are seized in daylight, by street muggings or car-jackings, then penned and chained in bathrooms or basements. We hardly dare to listen as the screams or whimpers drift up to the family living and eating areas, though the radio or TV is often on (self-protectively) to drown the noises.
The prince of evil, purified of all squeamishness, dapper with
obscene purpose, is Pa Puccio. Guillermo Francella, famed in
A South American film has never won the Venice Golden Lion. So
another cinematic impudence arrived in form of
The last scene packs a punch that will knock you on the canvas. Before that, this prizefight is involving if not outstanding. Ordinary direction; teledrama production values. It’s the payoff and performances power the picture.
Talking transgression, there’s nothing new under the sun and we
soon had a veteran to prove it. Filmmaker Brian De Palma swaggered into
In Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s DE PALMA the director natters volubly and compellingly about each film in turn, from THE WEDDING PARTY to REDACTED. In between the anecdotes and apercus, the films themselves hiccup their haiku splendours or purl their plan-sequence virtuosity in “remember how good this was?” excerpts.
As if the footnotes or front-notes to De Palma’s career weren’t enough – he discovered Robert De Niro, he roused Pauline Kael to her greatest prose, he was the poet and modern pioneer of the split screen – he used the camera’s secret energy and the screen space’s potentiating beauty with a sustained inventiveness we’ve hardly seen since Eisenstein. By whom, of course, he was inspired to his best of all sequences (think some): the Odessa Steps baby-in-pram set-piece, with ambient gun battle, in the Grand Central Station scene of THE UNTOUCHABLES.
Touch of Evil
Venice is cracking on confidently, even though some doom-chanters
say the end is nigh and the Mostra is in sunset
years. To which the proper response is: Sunset years? What’s wrong with that?
Have you seen a Venetian sunset?
Hardly something to complain about. It looks glorious, lasts a fair while,
and doesn’t accede to darkness for long before the next aesthetic show-stopper,
Fest boss Alberto Barbera still delivers
the filmic goods. And the stars. Johnny Depp was king of the
The directing lineup was pretty starry
too. In one 48-hour cluster we had Jerzy Skolimowski,
Atom Egoyan, Laurie Anderson – director and
demigoddess of performance art – and
He shone through the darkness of his very own story. SANGUE DEL
MIO SANGUE (BLOOD OF MY BLOOD) begins as a night-hued period drama, narrating
the nasty things done by a Catholic monastery to a young nun suspected of diabolical
possession. The tale was inspired by a real case history known as ‘the nun of
It’s a dry, dark chortle, this second act. The aged monastery chief has turned into a modern Dracula, dwelling in a rotting, ruined prison which used to be, yes, the original monastery. (Bobbio, the town depicted and for record the town where Bellocchio runs a small film school, actually did discover recently the remains of an ancient jail). Antic and envenomed, the movie’s midsection becomes positively Bulgakovian. Its diabolical characters – including a Select Committee of vampires and a pack of local-government bloodsuckers – could have leaped, balletically, from THE MASTER AND MARGARITA. In a future-set epilogue we return to the nun’s story. Time, like society and morality, has become topsy-turvy. But the steely, benighted beauty of Bellocchio’s imagery remains in place.
Atom Egoyan’s REMEMBER is quickly
forgotten, or should be. Hokey-pokey post-Holocaust thriller/melodrama.
Christopher Plummer primes his skills to play an Alzheimer’s-afflicted
Auschwitz survivor sent on a Nazi-killing mission in modern
But Laurie Anderson’s HEART OF A DOG has a heart the size of a Baskerville hound and a mind that, for all its basket-case moments (quotes from Wittgenstein and the Tibetan Book of the Dead), sustains an essay-documentary for 75 minutes that feel like – well, no more than 75 minutes.
Anderson lost her rat terrier Lolabelle and this is a valediction forbidding mourning. She wants us to love the world as her dog did, who after losing her sight was encouraged to paint, sculpt and play the piano. No, really. We see her do it. Lolabelle may not have been Artur Rubinstein, but she could bang out a good second-inversion B major chord.
Around the dog stuff
The Venice Golden Lion is a different kind of animal. It doesn’t
play the piano and isn’t bothered by birds of prey. It places its paw,
annually and gigantically, on films and filmmakers. It likes a bit of rough.
Size sometimes does matter. So a lot of bookies clustered, late
in the festival, around
The Magnificent Anthracites
Do we call it a documentary? Did we call FRANCOFONIA a
documentary? What is a documentary?
Vaguely inspired by Dante – well, who isn’t? – Liang Zhao’s non-narrative
knockout is about a mining area in
As for Hell, that’s underground: in the caverns measureless to man but measurable to medical science since a good number of miners get pneumoconiosis. Hell turns to Inferno two-thirds through the film when the whole screen suddenly turns scorching red. That’s the intro shock to the smelting sequence, which is astounding. Fire roars and licks. Blackened hominids we deduce to be human beings tug and hoick giant lumps of solidified flame from lakes of crimson lava. Like morsels of bloody meat from a stew.
Finally comes Heaven, sky-blue with irony, since it takes the form
of a tour of one of
The riches from vandalised nature created this useless, or use-awaiting, paradise. It makes the consummating coda to a dazzling film. Before it, Liang has wowed us with wonders and horrors effective because he barely inflects them. This is how it is. The film weakens only when he tries to poeticise. Did we need the actual quotations from Dante, murmured over the few and only trick visuals. In these, mountain landscapes are kaleidoscoped into trompe l’oeil intersecting planes, amid whose visionary cubism we spy, almost concealed, a naked man’s foetal, recumbent back. This must be Dante musing on his reincarnated cosmos. Or possibly just Liang Zhao lining up the next shot of his al fresco Hades.
It was a short rush from BEHEMOTH’s last-day screening to the
prizes gala. Lights, cameras, action, in and around the Palazzo del Cinema.
This year, as in recent ones, the red carpet matched the exoskeletal décor:
multitudinous scarlet shields, like armadillo armour-plating, bearing the
bold device ‘Jaeger-LeCoultre’. That company must
be tickled pink, or scarlet, to have the Mostra del
Cinema sponsorship contract year after year. I’m not complaining (though I
didn’t get my usual envelope). But what happened to the epoch when production
The Immortal Glory
Inside the palazzo,
surprises lay in store. They weren’t just the supporting awards. Best Actor
to Fabrice Luchini, for some dapper sparkle in the
French court drama L’HERMINE (ERMINE): didn’t quite expect that, nor Best
Actress to Valeria Golino, not overly stretched in
Then we got two loud cheers in succession. Pablo Trapero was right on the money, my money anyway, for Best Director with EL CLAN. And ANOMALISA – hooray – got the runner-up Grand Jury Prize.
Then came the thunderbolt. Out of a clear ceiling. “The Leone d’Oro is won by – (two semi-audible foreign words)…” Hold on, we didn’t quite catch that? Once again, please? The title?
Jury chief Alfonso Cuaron didn’t actually say, did he, DESDE ALLA (FROM AFAR). He did? The Venezuelan gay drama? Commotion, disbelief, pleasure at the unexpected, shock at the unimaginable. Has a horse this dark ever won a glittering film festival top prize before, in the history of the international movie olympics?
Fact is, we critics were all wrong. (Except me). In a collective reviewers’ poll on the last day, Lorenzo Vigas’s film had come next to bottom. That’s unfair. But it still seemed inconceivable that a jury could up-rate its value to leonine gold.
Well, hurrah for their nerve. Hurrah for an outsider film from an
Venezia 2016? I’m game if you are.
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved