by Roderick Conway Morris

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Black Tie Required

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 26 August 1998


The principal cosmetic innovation, or perhaps retrogression, of this year's Venice Film Festival, which runs from Sept. 3 to Sept. 13, is the reintroduction after 20 years of the black-tie rule for the inauguration and the prize-giving ceremonies.

The reimposition of lo smoking, as the dinner jacket is known in Italian, is apparently the bright idea of the backroom boys of the Venice Biennale, which also runs the film festival, rather than that of the arty, bearded and habitually casually dressed Felice Laudadio, in his second year as artistic director.

In an additional attempt to add glitz to the occasion, the organizers are to concentrate presentations, press conferences and so on, at the Excelsior Hotel, the Lido's Rudolph Valentino-esque architectural extravaganza, with its Moorish domes, minarets, courtyards, fountains and hall of mirrors. The festival was to have been opened by Sophia Loren, who is to receive a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement (along with the Polish director Andrzej Wajda). Since Loren has been taken ill in the United States, the prize will be collected by her husband, Carlo Ponti, and her sons.

Proceedings will be closed by Maria Grazia Cucinotta, who won international fame in Michael Radford's Oscar-winning 'Il Postino' and whose voluptuous Mediterranean looks have led admirers to describe her as 'the new Loren.'

A screening of 'Saving Private Ryan' will initiate the proceedings, with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in attendance. The prospect of the arrival of the 80-person Spielberg circus, however, has strained already booked-up hotels. With 200 and more celebrities and followers yet to find a bed, Laudadio has proposed accommodating them on a chartered cruise ship moored in the lagoon. Meanwhile, Venice's licensed water-taxi drivers are threatening to go on strike for the duration of the event to protest a plan to legitimize the legion of pirate operators, who have already menaced the festival with disruption if their demands are not met.

Also to receive world premieres in the out-of-competition category are James Ivory's 'A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries'; the Indian director Shekhar Kapur's costume drama of the Virgin Queen 'Elizabeth'; Claude Lelouch's 'Hasards ou Coincidences,' and Woody Allen's 'Celebrity.'

Venice's forces of law and order were no doubt relieved to learn that Leonardo DiCaprio, who has a cameo role in the latter film, was not invited, and that the teenyboppers will have to make do with a glimpse of Kenneth Branagh and the director himself.

Of a duo of Italian films in this section perhaps the most eagerly awaited is 'Incontri Prohibiti' (Forbidden Meetings), directed by and starring the veteran Alberto Sordi with the blonde Italian starlet Valeria Marini. Bigas Luna's heartless overexposure of Marini's physical amplitude and acting shortcomings in 'Bambola' caused a near riot at its premiere here a couple of years ago -- a repetition of which the soberly dressed supremos of the 55th Venice Film Festival will be hoping to avoid.

Closing the event will be the German director Doris Doerrie's 'Bin Ich Schoen?' (Am I Beautiful?), whose title suggests some progress in the self-esteem stakes, seeing that her last film was 'Nobody Loves Me.'

The in-competition lineup also promises to bring a fair crop of stars to the Lido. Among them will be Catherine Deneuve, who is in Nicole Garcia's 'Place Vendome'; Emmanuelle Beart, in 'Voleur de Vie' (Stolen Life); Meryl Streep, in the Irish film 'Dancing at Lughnasa,' and Warren Beatty, writer, director and star of 'Bulworth.' Of the 19 in-competition productions, four are from the United States and three each from Italy and France. Argentina, Britain, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Yugoslavia are represented by one each.


FILMS from Asia, having enjoyed several years of prominence here -- Takeshi Kitano's 'Hana-Bi' (Fireworks) won last year's Golden Lion -- are striking by their absence from the competition.

One of the few Asian offerings to appear in any section is Shinya Tsukamoto's 'Bullet Ballet,' billed as 'a battle between the mutants of the first generation and the mutants of the second generation.'

Even this sounds relatively conventional in the face of the Russian Alexander Bashirov's 'The Iron Heel of the Oligarchy,' described as a musical comedy inspired by Karl Marx's 'Das Kapital.' Could this be it, at last: 'Das Kapital -- The Musical'?

Once again in the 'Nights and Stars' section Venice will be serving as a European launching pad for a number of other American productions: including Peter Weir's 'The Truman Game,' Andrew Davis's 'A Perfect Murder' (starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow), Spike Lee's 'He Got Game' (with Denzel Washington in the lead) and Bob Rafelson's 'Poodle Springs,' scripted by Tom Stoppard from Raymond Chandler's unfinished novel, with James Caan as the private detective Philip Marlowe.

But also to be premiered here will be Canadian, French and Italian films, such as the French director Roger Planchon's Belle Epoque bio-pic 'Lautrec.'

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2024