by Roderick Conway Morris

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Movies without Borders


By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 29 August 2001

 

Globalization may be a dirty word in some bien-pensant circles, but art-house filmmakers are embracing the concept with a vengeance. Half the score of films competing for the Golden Lion this year are international co-productions, and even the stories themselves increasingly display symptoms of what the Soviet authorities used to anathematize as "rootless cosmopolitanism."

The Serb Goran Paskaljevic, who won the International Critic's Prize at

Venice a couple of years ago for "The Powderkeg," is back with "How Harry Became a Tree" (an Irish-Italian-British-French production), which relocates a Chinese story -- about a man with a recurring nightmare that he has been metamorphosed into a tree destined to be cut down and made into a coffin -- to the Emerald Isle.

The British director Clare Peploe has taken an 18th-century French comedy of manners by Marivaux, "The Triumph of Love," and transposed it from never-never-land Sparta to fashionable Tuscany. And Walter Salles, director of the multiple award winner "Central Station," in a Brazilian-Swiss-French enterprise, has transported "Broken April," the Albanian Ismail Kadare's tale of a family vendetta, to the badlands of his native Brazil.

A joint opener of the festival, which begins Wednesday and continues until Sept. 8, is the out-of-competition "Dust," a British-Italian-German-Macedonian venture, directed by Milcho Manchevski, whose "Before the Rain" won the Golden Lion in 1994. "Dust" is a story related long afterward in modern Manhattan of two brothers who fall in love with the same woman in the Wild West and of how one of them becomes a mercenary in Macedonia during the Balkan Wars of the early 20th century.

Classifying the in-competition films according to the country of origin of their directors, Austria, Brazil, China, India, Iran, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Portugal, Romania, Serbia and Spain have one each; Britain, France and the United States two apiece.

Alberto Barbera, who is in his third year as artistic director of the festival, and his team viewed 2,400 titles, of which 140 were chosen for the various sections.

While achieving a commendable spread of productions from around the globe, Barbera's questionable innovation this year has been to turn the Cinema del Presente (Contemporary Cinema) category, which was previously out of competition, into a second in-competition list, with 21 entries vying for a new "Lion of the Year" and two additional prizes.

Barbera has characterized the original Golden Lion line-up as "representing auteur cinema of a more well-established and more classic" stamp, and the second Contemporary Cinema group as a showcase for films "taking more risks in terms of themes, idioms and modes of expression."

The declared hope is that this bifurcation -- which effectively puts 41 films in competition and threatens to condemn the press corps to inhabit a sleepless, twilight world of the Undead -- will reduce the excessive attention lavished on the Golden Lion candidates.

However, given that Venice has managed to maintain its status as the premier platform for art-house cinema with some difficulty, particularly in the face of competition from Berlin, Barbera's initiative is likely to prove hazardous. There seems little benefit in undermining the prestige of the Golden Lion, still perhaps the most coveted art-house award, by implying that it is primarily destined for more traditional forms of filmmaking.

At the same time many observers will wonder why more daring and imaginative films should end up, in Venice of all places, being relegated to a kind of "B" list, which this year includes several movies that, on paper at least, look perfectly eligible for the "A" list. Andres Wood's "La Fiebre del Loco" (Loco Fever), for example, which chronicles the descent of a rabble of speculators, con men, hookers and ne'er-do-wells on a remote Chilean fishing village when the ban on the collection of a rare aphrodisiac crustacean is temporarily lifted by the government, and Giuseppe Bertolucci's "L'Amore Probabilmente" (Probably Love) about a young girl who embarks on a career of dissembling and mendaciousness with disastrous consequences.

Dualism being the name of the game, Bertolucci's film will be the second official festival opener with Manchevski's "Dust."

The jury for the Golden Lion and a half-dozen other traditional prizes will be the customary mix of representatives of the industry, including directors, a producer, a writer and an actor, chaired by Nanni Moretti, winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes for "The Son's Room" in May.

But the Lion of the Year competition will be judged by a team of professional movie buffs, presided over by Shiguehiko Hasumi of Japan's "Cahiers du Cinema," reinforcing, however unintentionally, the view that these productions might prove a trifle too wacky and avant-garde for common or garden filmfolk, let alone the average punter.

There is a notable U.S. and British presence in the out-of-competition category. The big Hollywood studios will be represented by Spielberg-as-Kubrick's-vicar-on-earth's "A.I. Artificial Intelligence," John Carpenter's "John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars" (make a note of that director's name in case you forget it), David Mamet's "Heist," Antoine Fuqua's "Training Day" and Albert and Allen Hughes's "From Hell," starring Johnny Depp as a detective on the trail of Jack the Ripper. Woody Allen will, as usual, be giving the first European screening of his latest in Venice, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," recently premiered at the Hollywood Film Festival. Further comic relief is promised by Peter ("The Full Monty") Cattaneo's "Lucky Break."

The goodly chunk of commercial fare looks set to guarantee a procession of stars on the Lido, among them Nicole Kidman (who appears both in and out of competition), Johnny Depp, Helen Hunt and Charlize Theron ("The Curse of the Jade Scorpion"), Denzel Washington ("Training Day") and Mira Sorvino and Ben Kingsley ("The Triumph of Love").

But Barbera has also been at pains to pay his respects to French cinema by awarding a Career Golden Lion to the 81-year-old Eric Rohmer, whose French Revolution Digital-Historical "L'Anglaise et le Duc" (The Lady and the Duke) will be premiered out of competition. And Josee Dayan's celluloid version of Marguerite Duras's late-blooming love affair with a young admirer, "Cet Amour la," starring Jeanne Moreau, is one of the duo of films designated to close the festival (the other being Santosh Sivan's Indian bio-pic of the 3d-century B.C. Emperor Asoka, "Asoka").


First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2016