by Roderick Conway Morris

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Venice race warms up

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 11 September 2004


Disorganization continued to plague the 61st Venice Film Festival, which closes on Saturday evening with the presentation of the Golden Lion for the best in-competition film and other prizes, with films still running late, problems with the ticketing system and some screenings packed to the rafters while other high-profile premieres had inexplicably empty seats.

The competition warmed up with the appearance of the Korean writer-director Kim Ki Duk's 'Bin-jip' (retitled '3-Iron' for the international market). The principal character is Tae Suk, played by Jae-Hee, who leads a bizarre nomadic existence as a serial squatter, breaking into people's homes and living there for a few days at a time while they are away on holiday or business.

In one of the houses he moves into thinking it empty he discovers a battered and traumatized young wife (Lee Seung Yeon). When the violent husband returns, Tae Suk bombards him with golf balls, delivered with devastating accuracy at close range by the '3-Iron' of the English title, temporarily incapacitating him, and departs taking the young woman with him. Thereafter, they wander from house to house, until the police catch up with them. Jae-Hee speaks not a single word, and Lee Seung Yeon just one short sentence in the entire film, making this an almost wholly visual exercise in story telling. Despite this self-imposed restraint (one almost wonders if the director did it for a bet), an intriguing love story unfolds, punctuated by some truly quirky and original comedy.

Mike Leigh's in-competition 'Vera Drake' is based on the true story of a working-class woman who was arrested and tried in 1950 for carrying out abortions not for any financial gain but 'out of the kindness of her heart' to help girls and women in trouble.

The period is lovingly re-evoked down to the last detail with regard to interiors, dress, idioms of speech and topics of conversation, and the film displays Leigh's characteristic genius for fostering utterly convincing ensemble acting. This is a deeply English story, but paradoxically, as abortion is no longer a major issue in Britain, the film is likely to have more resonance in those countries where the matter is more contentious.Jonathan Glazer's slickly made but narratively clunky 'Birth,' also in competition, gives new meaning to the concept of the disaster movie. Anna (Nicole Kidman) has been widowed for 10 years since her husband had a heart attack while jogging in Central Park. She has finally agreed to remarry, but at this point a 10-year-old boy, Sean, an obnoxious brat played by Cameron Bright, turns up claiming to be the reincarnation of the dead husband and sets about trying to dissuade Anna from going through with the wedding.

An early scene in the park will alert any attentive viewer to where Sean is coming from, and in the end the story is simply not credible. Despite the hopelessness of the material she is working with, Kidman puts in a fine performance - an extended shot of her face at the theater is a marvel of microscopic expressiveness - as does Lauren Bacall as Anna's mother. They deserved a better script.

A more serious study of bereavement was 'Tout un hiver sans feu' (A Whole Winter Without Fire), an in-competition first film by the Swiss director Greg Zglinski. Jean and Laure are a farming couple in the Swiss Jura who have lost their 5-year-old daughter in a fire in their barn. Their grief threatens irreparably to break up their marriage. But when Jean, unable to keep the farm going by himself, takes a job in a foundry, he is befriended by two Kosovar refugees employed there who have their own losses and the tragedies of a nation to bear. Their determination to carry on helps Jean to begin rebuilding his life and marriage. This is a measured, affecting and thought-provoking story.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023