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Last updated: August 20, 2005
Copyright 2006
Michael R. Colford. All rights reserved

Film Festival Reviews

(Excerpts From) A Diary of the
59 Mostra Internazionale D'Arte Cinematografica

courtesy of Reeling
by Laura Clifford
The Venice Film Festival is the oldest festival in the world, begun at Venice's Lido beach resort in 1932 by Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, the President of the Biennale. The first film shown was Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By 1934, the festival was competitive, with over 300 journalists in attendance, although the prize was first known as the "Coppa Mussolini." The current Golden Lion award has been responsible for bringing such greats as Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, and Japanese cinema in general, to world attention. This year, the Biennale hired former Berlin fest director, Moritz de Lido BeachHadeln, to liven up the event. De Hadeln did a fabulous job pulling together a festival in only six months, but has stirred up a wave of controversy with his comments that Venice's Golden Lion has lost its lustre. It remains to be seen whether De Hadeln will direct the 2003 festival.

Robin's Reflections
by Robin Cilfford

Film festivals, especially when attended as a member of the press community, tend to be whirlwind events, screening four, five, even six or more films a day. Then, there are the many press conferences, usually in several different languages, with the sometimes poignant, sometimes-silly questions and, depending on the interviewee, occasionally some very amusing answers. The Venice Film Festival 2002 is no exception.

The two biggest challenges facing the serious film fest attendee are sleep deprivation and finding time to eat. Sleep becomes a premium item as screenings begin at 8:30 in the morning and end with a midnight showing of selected films. As such, one can count on around six fitful hours of sleep and the propensity for head snaps as you doze off in the darkened theaters toward the end of the movie going day. The super serious film buff will try to cram as many flicks as they can in the course of the day with the die hard squad taking in as many as 8 films per diem! This is where the issue of eating raises its head.

Getting sustenance during the siege of a film fest can sometimes be a problem. Fortunately, the Lido, the Venetian resort where the fest is held each year, is a compact area where food, whether to grab a delicious sandwich and a beer at the local snack wagon or partake in a multi-scoop gelato cone at a favored ice cream stand, is readily available. If the fest zombie tires of fast food and gelato sandwiches (a strange variation on the Americans ice cream sandwich) it is only a fifteen-minute walk to the Via Saint Maria Elizabeth where the concentration of restaurants and cafes reside. There, the hungry film buff can sit down to a salad and a tasty pizza or sit back and take in a multi-course meal with, of course, a decent bottle of wine.

But, the reason for attending a film festival is to see movies. Mostra, as the Venice Fest is called, is made up of several venues. The main one is the competition for the coveted Gold Lion award for best film. This year (2002) that award went to director Peter Mullan's controversial film The Magdalene Sisters which has generated much response from the Vatican - all of it negative. (See the complete list of fest winners on the Mostra wrap-up.)

Laura and I didn't get to attend all of the festival features but we gave a good shot at attending as many of the films as we could. In all, we saw 30 feature films in a little over 9 days, including Nearly Heaven only an hour or two after arriving on the Lido after 18+ solid hours of traveling (which is an epic tale of marathon travel unto itself). We ended our Venice Film Festival 2002 sojourn tired but happy to have attended. To paraphrase the line from The Terminator - We'll be back!

Friday, August 30
Eighteen hours of travel (2 flights, 2 cab rides, bus link between Heathrow and Gatwick and a water taxi) land us in Venice the afternoon of day 2 of the 59th Venice Film Festival. We have an apartment three blocks from the Casino where all the action is headquartered on the Lido beach. After checking in at the press office, we head to our first film at 5:15 p.m. in the immense Palagalileo theater which is reserved almost exclusively for press and industry screenings. The French film, Au Plus Pres du Paradis (Nearest to Heaven), directed by Tonie Marshall (Venus Beauty Institute) is a romance created for film icon Catherine Deneuve. It's little more than a vanity project for Deneuve, but gets a huge jolt from William Hurt's surprising performance, which staved off extreme jet lag. 1 1/2 cats
A French film with Italian subtitles accompanied by much smaller English subtitles scrawling across a monitor below the screen was all we could take after a day without sleep, so the 7:45 p.m. screening of Roger Dodger was bypassed for the 9:45 a.m. one the next day.
Saturday, August 31
Made our way to the Sala Grande, where all the glitzy premieres take place and took seats in the balcony. As a giddy, excited young American made his way to a seat to our right, Robin commented 'that must be the director.' Bingo - Massachusetts native Dylan Kidd was clearly thrilled to be there. Although not in competition, Rodger Dodger is a lot more like it! This jangly, in your face film is a terrific American independent character study of an ad exec (Campbell Scott) who's so used to 'making people feel bad about themselves in order to sell them what they need' he doesn't recognize the destruction he leaves in the wake of his personal life. Kidd gets terrific acting (Isabella Rossellini, Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkeley all make significant contributions), from his ensemble cast working from his razor sharp script which only errs with an ending that's too feel good to be true. 4 cats
The house lights came up to reveal the late appearance of the "Showgirl" herself, Elizabeth Berkeley, in a dazzling white pant suit.
Staying in the Sala Grande, next up was the premiere of

Nuomos Sutartis (The Lease) (In competition, Upstream) Lithuania - Kristijonas Vildziunas refreshingingly features a middle aged woman (Larisa Kalpokaite, resembling AbFab's Jennifer Saunders) as his central character, but his film feels like a Kieslowski wannabe. A successful businesswoman strikes out on her own and has an affair with a handsome younger man after her ex-husband moves in with her daughter. Her lover turns cold when she buys her own place instead of renewing her lease. Presumably an allegory about the illusory qualities of freedom in a post-Communist society, The Lease makes little sense until its climax, which plays like A Short Film About Love without the emotional impact. Kalpokaite gives a strong performance nonetheless. 2 1/2 cats
La Virgen de la Lujuria (Virgin of Lust) (In competition, Upstream). Mexican auteur Arturo Ripstein (Deep Crimson) combines the Mexican wrestling film, Gilbert & Sullivan, old time Hollywood coming attractions, Franco/Republican politics and the musical for a unique offering with glossy style and a plodding pace. Just as I was noting that the film felt like 'a musical without the music,' four actors break out into song at the 60 minute mark. Ignacio 'El Mikado' Jurado (Luis Felipe Tovar, The Mexican) is a Mexican waiter who blindly loves Lola (Ariadna Gil, also appearing in Bear's Kiss), a heartless prostitute who is in turn with a famous wrestler who spurns her affections. Beautiful production design and terrific performances can't make up for the slow route to the inevitable conclusion, although the political backdrop provides a most amusing method for El Mikado to win the woman of his dreams. 3 cats
At this point, we realize that every film we've seen has featured lots of cigarette smoke and women's feet - a theme for Venice 59?
The rest of the day was spent getting video coverage of Catherine Denueve's arrival for her premiere and Tom Hanks red carpet walk into Road to Perdition for Reeling's Venice special. The celebrity arrivals are preceded by Gershwin blaring out over loudspeakers, which whip the crowd into a frenzy of excitement, although there are numerous false starts. Controversial Fest director Moritz De Hadeln paces the red carpet waiting to receive his guests. At dusk, the glamorous Deneuve, in navy sequins, played to the cameras and barely to the crowd. Three hours later, thousands were jammed along the Lido screaming 'Tom!, Tom!' as mosquitos thickly swarmed (I counted thirty-two bites - all for about 3 minutes of footage). Diminutive, silver maned ratings board head Jack Valenti strolled the red carpet and then the man himself arrived. Hanks posed for photogs, graciously pulling director Sam Mendes into the shots, but also addressed the crowds and signed autographs. Wonder if I'll ever be able to watch Tom Hanks again without scratching, though.
The rest of the day was spent getting video coverage of Catherine Denueve's arrival for her premiere and Tom Hanks red carpet walk into Road to Perdition for Reeling's Venice special. The celebrity arrivals are preceded by Gershwin blaring out over loudspeakers, which whip the crowd into a frenzy of excitement, although there are numerous false starts. Controversial Fest director Moritz De Hadeln paces the red carpet waiting to receive his guests. At dusk, the glamorous Deneuve, in navy sequins, played to the cameras and barely to the crowd. Three hours later, thousands were jammed along the Lido screaming 'Tom!, Tom!' as mosquitos thickly swarmed (I counted thirty-two bites - all for about 3 minutes of footage). Diminutive, silver maned ratings board head Jack Valenti strolled the red carpet and then the man himself arrived. Hanks posed for photogs, graciously pulling director Sam Mendes into the shots, but also addressed the crowds and signed autographs. Wonder if I'll ever be able to watch Tom Hanks again without scratching, though.
Sunday, September 1
Started the day late in the Casino for press conferences. Director Andrei Konchalovsky was enthusiastic and charming during his conference for Dom Durakov (House of Fools), particularly when explaining the childlike need to have his film be recognized in the competition. Next up was K-19: The Widowmaker with statuesque (and surprisingly soft spoken) director Kathryn Bigelow and stars Harrison Ford andHarrison Ford Liam Neesan. All claimed no knowledge of charges by Russian survivors of the disaster that they were not portrayed accurately. Bigelow made a gracious statement about healing old cold war wounds. Neesan passionately professed his pride in the film. Ford laughed off questions about U.S. box office and got churlish about press interest in Calista Flockhart, who accompanied him to the Lido. Note to Ford - your Indiana Jones days are definitely over.
Vendredi Soir (Friday Night) (In Competition, Upstream) France - Claire Denis' (Beau Travail) new film is a beautiful mood poem about Laure (Valerie Lemercier, Les Visiteurs) in transition from her single apartment to a shared life. Stuck in evening traffic , Laure is cocooned within the world of her car and its radio. Gradually she becomes aware of the world around her (gorgeously shot by Agnes Godard, who also shot competitor Au Plus Pres du Paradis). She picks up a stranger, Jean (Vincent Lindon, Pas de Scandale), and her evening takes unexpected turns. Although not well received in general, I loved the mood Denis evoked with images and music (Dickon Hinchliffe, whose band Tinderbox scored Denis' last film, Trouble Every Day) alone. Dialogue in Vendredi Soir is definitely incidental - pure cinema, a lovely film with three brief touches of whimsy. 4 cats
Meili Shiguang (The Best of Times) (In competition, Venezia 59) Taiwan - Chang Tso-Chi's film begins like a comedy about an extended family but turns into a reflection on the tragedy that befalls cousins Ah Wei (Fan Wing, who also narrates) - 'I'm happy, well grounded, not much of a dreamer' - and Ah Jie (Gao Meng-Jie), a funny but troubled youth whose first job puts him in touch with a gun. Family patriarch, Ah Wei's dad, is goaded by granny about gambling away the family's money while Ah Jei's father repetitively recounts his dishonorable discharge from the army decades earlier. The two men spend their evenings getting drunk, suggesting that Ah Wei and Ah Jei's fates may have been better met young. Tragedy also befalls Ah Wei's twin sister who suffers from leukemia, but Tso-Chi uses expressionistic, slightly comic allegory to end his film on an up note. Thio Hugo P.'s Spanish Western guitar score rocks. 3 1/2 cats
Break for dinner in town - Denis' smiling anchovy pie has made me crave pizza a la romana. Unfortunately, eating caused us to miss Konchalovsky's film, which sounded like a remake of the 1966 French film King of Hearts, a bit too twee for my tastes, but the film was very well received and I regret missing it.
Due Amici (Two Friends) (Settimana Della Critica) Italy - Spiro Scimone (who also wrote) and Francesco Sframeli's delightful first feature is a reflection on a male friendship that develops between opposites. Nunzio (Sframeli) is a naive soul who loses his job at a paint factory when the fumes result in a constant hacking cough. He acts like a wife to Pino (Scimone) is a taciturn man who puts up with Nunzio's constant questions regarding the train journeys he makes whenever a parcel of fish is delivered to their door. Gradually, Nunzio's queries about such things as sleeping with or without socks in train compartments imbed themselves in Pino and they reverse roles as Pino begins to care for Nunzio in his ill health. The film isn't original and sometimes sidetracks too far to attain whimsy, but on the whole Two Friends is a charmer. 3 cats
Far from HeavenFar From Heaven (In competition, Venezia 59) USA - Todd Haynes explores sexual and racial discrimination and repression in 1950's Hartford, CT in his ode to Douglas Sirk and actress Julianne Moore. When perfect housewife Cathy (Moore) discovers her ad exec husband (Dennis Quaid in a 180 from his The Rookie role) in a clinch with another man, she tries to save their sexless marriage via counselling, but finds herself drifting into a relationship with her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert). Suddenly Hartford's perfect hostess is the subject of a scandal that even her best friend (Patricia Clarkson) recoils from. Haynes walks a fine line that explores melodrama to the very edge of camp, but attains a real emotional wallop. Moore is perfection, Quaid slips in subtle effeminate touches (particularly when drunk) and Haysbert is the essence of gentility. Clarkson is top notch as the country club pal as is Viola Davis as the Whitaker's made. Celia Weston and Bette Henritze do a lot with little screen time as the town gossip and society columnist respectively.

Production design (Mark Friedberg) and costuming (Sandy Powell) are to die for and all is beautifully framed by Lachman's camera. Elmer Bernstein's score, like all other tech credits, harkens back to another age. While Far From Heaven is most reminiscent of Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, I only was reminded of Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls New England autumns. My pick for the golden lion and favorite of the festival. 5 cats
We head over to the Sala Grande to catch the star-studded arrivals for the midnight showing of K-19: The Widowmaker for Reeling. Liam Neesan arrives with the radiant Natasha Richardson, followed by Bigelow in elegant flowing black. The crowd screams only for 'Ally! Ally!' though, as Harrison Ford escorts Calista Flockhart up the red carpet. To bed late, but up early - 8:30 screening before the film's press conference tomorrow!
Monday, September 2
Ripley's Game (Fuori Concorso) Italy - Italian director Liliana Cavani (The Night Porter) looks at Tom Ripley decades after his initial descent into evil. John Malkovich is perfectly cast as the amoral epicurean, now living grandly in a Veneto villa with his harpsichordist wife (Chiara Caselli, My Own Private Idaho). When the terminally ill village framer (Dougray Scott, Ever After) throws a birthday party for his son, Ripley overhears an insult. For revenge, he points his former colleague Reeves (Ray Winstone, Sexy Beast), in need of a hit man, to the destitute and dying Trevanny. Ironically, Trevanny's eventual plight reveals in Ripley something thought to be long lost - humanity. Liliana Cavani's suspense thriller harkens back to the cold war thrillers also evoked by this year's The Bourne Identity, but she's a lot more playful. A scene where Malkovich dispatches not one, but three, Eastern mobsters in a train lavatory is both tense and hilarious - one of the highlights of the fest. This is Malkovich's best performance since playing himself. Winstone's grubby gangster also gets some laughs, although his character isn't very deeply defined. Scott displays little more than harried confusion, but Lena Headey is fine as his suspicious wife. 3 1/2 cats
John MalkovichRipley's Game press conference - John Malkovich gets nervous laughs describing Ripley's murderous rationale - perhaps he's just a little bit too convincing? If he added a Panama hat to his elegant cream colored suit he could also pass for Hannibal Lecter. Co-star Dougray Scott seems to be suffering from jet lag. Unfortunately, I neglected to obtain a translator to hear director Cavani's remarks which were all in Italian.
Julianne MooreFar From Heaven press conference - Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore are both genuine and gracious accepting many compliments from press members. A Taiwanese journalist tells Haynes he's saved the Venice Film Festival. Haynes discusses his influences, saying that although the homosexuality displayed in his film wouldn't have been possible in Sirk's time, that Sirk's casting of Rock Hudson in many films can be regarded in a new light now. Moore expresses gratitude to Haynes for having written a second movie for her (they first collaborated on Safe). She regards her character of Cathy as an expression of American optimism after being surprised by how much she smiled after she'd seen the film.
Xun Qiang (The Missing Gun) (In competition, Upstream) China - Writer/director Lu Chuan's story of small town policeman (Jiang Wen, Red Sorghum) who can't find his gun after drunken celebration of his sister's wedding sounded intriguing, but ultimately disappointed. Chuan borrows English director Guy Ritchie's kinetic style and establishes his cast of characters in quick order. Ma Shan's already in trouble when he reports the flaw on his sterling record to authorities, but when his missing gun becomes a murder weapon, he must clear himself as a suspect. The climatic revelation of who's responsible seems plucked from the air, but Chuan's theme of memory reconstructed from external eyewitnesses is intriguing. The Missing Gun has its moments and Wen is intense. 2 cats
Over to the Pala BNL tent for the weirdest experience of the festival.

Rokugatsu no Hebi (A Snake of June) (In competition, Upstream) Japan - Tetsuo director Shinya Tsukamoto takes his audience on a surreal trip with his heroine Rinko (Asuku Kurosawa), whose sexless marriage to the much older Shigehiko (Yuji Koutari), a cleanliness compulsive, causes her to pursue her fantasies on her own. Then she receives photographs of her private moments followed by a phone call from the photographer (Tsukmoto, who also shot his film) demanding that she act out her fantasies in public. This wildly erotic and disturbing film features one breathtaking image after another in glorious black and white, accompanied by a rattling sound design. Tsukamoto has matured since his Tetsuo days and proves more subtly disquieting than younger countryman Takashi Miike (Audition). Kurosawa bravely bares all. The festival catalog's synopsis of the film is a hoot. 4 1/2 cats
Tuesday, September 3
Nacht (Naked) (In competition, Venezia 59) Germany - German filmmaker Dorris Dorrie's romantic comedy looks at how individuals maintain their separateness while forming couples via 3 sets of friends at different social strata. Emilia (Heike Makatsch, Resident Evil) and Felix (Benno Furmann, The Princess and the Warrior) have no money and will be making their first appearance at newly minted millionaires Charlotte (Nina Hoss) and Dylan's (Mehmet Kurtulus) dinner party since breaking up. Also attending are Boris (Jurgen Vogel, Smilla's Sense of Snow), who works for Dylan, and Annette (Alexandra Maria Lara). Felix tries to revenge his losses in Dylan's stock by making a bet that the two other couples won't be able to recognize their own partner's naked body if blindfolded. Dorrie makes some interesting observations and production design and costume embody their owners (a scene between Emilia and Felix sitting in a canoe in her apartment is fab), but this is entertainment, not Golden Lion material. 3 1/2 cats
L'Homme du TrainL'Homme du Train (In competition, Venezia 59) France - Patrice Leconte's (Girl on the Bridge) film is like the best beef goulash you've ever had - nothing new but quality ingredients expertly combined and spiced to provide a few layers of complexity. Manesquier (Jean Rochefort, The Closet) is a refined, talkative, retired schoolteacher living in a small French town in the bric-a-brac stuffed home of his deceased mother. Milan (French rocker Johnny Hallyday, Les Diaboliques) is a rough, taciturn bank robber who arrives by train accompanied by Ry Cooderesque strains. Schubert loving Manesquier provides shelter to Milan when he cannot book a room and a gradual friendship builds to the point where the two men find they wish for the very things the other possesses. Leconte grants those wishes in a fantastical conclusion, while technically merging their individual color and music themes. A true charmer - Rochefort was my pick for Best Actor (he won the audience award, as did the film, but L'Homme du Train wasn't recognized with any official awards). 4 1/2 cats
Back to the Sala Grande for the premiere of

Musikk for Bryllup og Begravelse (Music for Weddings and Funerals) (In competition, Upstream) Norway/Sweden - A writer (Lena Endre, Faithless) grieving for the death of her child is visited by his father (Bjorn Floberg, 1997's Insomnia), her ex-husband and the architect of her minimalist home - theLena Endre impractical design of which contributed to their child's accidental death. He chooses that evening to commit suicide. Sara must deal with his present wife Helen (Petronella Barker), his surprise teenage mistress Kaja (Rebeccka Hemse) and her spouse-abused belly dancing instructor with two young children in tow all on the same day. As Peter's minimalist home is turned topsy turvy by the excesses of his lifestyle, Sara's musician border Bogdan (Goran Bregovic) assembles a gypsy band in her basement to keep time to the chaos. Poorly received on its home turf, Unni Straume's film is a life affirming look at death, sisterhood and truth. 3 1/2 cats

After the film, star Lena Endre leans from the balcony for photographers.
Seeing as how it's our fifth day in Venice and we've yet to see Venice proper (except for the glorious view from the Lido), we decide to hop a waterbus and take the evening off from film-going.
Wednesday, September 4
A quick morning jog over to the Pala BNL for an 8:30 screening. Jury president Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern) takes a seat directly to our right, much to Robin's delight (Li and Deneuve in one trip - if Penelope Cruz had been there, Robin would have died and gone to heaven).
Bear's Kiss (In competition, Venezia 59) Russia/Sweden/Italy/Germany/Spain - Sergei Bodrov's (Prisoner of the Mountains) English language international coproduction is a road movie that follows fourteen year old Lola (Rebecka Liljeberg, Show Me Love) and her trained bear, which happens to shapeshift into her lover Misha (Sergei Bodrov Jr., Prisoner of the Mountains). Lola suffers losses as her mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil, Lola in Virgin of Lust) abandons her, her father figure Marco (Maurizio Donadoni) dies in a motorcycle accident and Lou (Keith Allen, 24 Hour Party People), her new protector, rapes her. When Mischa himself is imperiled, Lola plots an escape for them both that takes her on a road she'd never dreamed of. This fairy tale, featuring the celtic music of Canadian Loreena McKennit, is at its best when focusing on the circus performances. Liljeberg plays Lola sullen, deadened by circumstance, and the character fails to engage. Bodrov Jr. is believable as the shapeshifting bear. Donadoni gives a touching perf and Allen is malevolently entertaining. 2 1/2 cats
We jaunt over to the Palagalileo for

Xiaocheng Zhi Chun (Springtime in a Small Town) (In competition, Upstream) China - This lovely film focuses on a love triangle with a backdrop of a post-war China on the brink of radical change. Returning from the war, a young doctor, Zhang Zhichen (Xin Baiqing) visits his closest friend in his crumbling ancestral home. Dai Liyan (Wu Jun) is sickly, living off his inherited wealth. His 8 year old marriage to Yuwen (Hu Jingfan) is also crumbling as his health has affected their sex life. As Zhichen concludes that Liyan's problem is psychosomatic, Yuwen tries to recreate the heat of a former relationship unknown to her husband while his little sister Xiu (Lu Sisi) also develops an attraction to the handsome doctor. Director Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Blue Kite) gets extraordinary results from his cast, all making their feature film debuts. While his blocking of the old lovers leans to overt melodrama, on the whole the film is subtle, particularly in Wu Jun's beautifully restrained performance. A scene where the four float down a river in a boat while little sister stands and sings a song to springtime is a standout worthy of Renoir.
A power failure compounded by an incorrect reel change during this film has thrown off our planned schedule, so against all instincts we change plans and head to the Sala Grande for the (completely packed) premiere of

Ken Park (In competition, Upstream) USA - Thoroughly vile! It's hard to come to terms with the fact that the man who shot the magnificent Far From Heaven (Ed Lachman) also coshot and codirected (with Larry Clark of Kids and Bully fame) this piece of exploitative button pushing. The fact that Kids screenwriter Harmony Korine was involved seemed promising, but Ken Park is reprehensible. This time Clark once again finds his young cast on the streets, but brings parents into the picture with such actors as a 'what-was-she-thinking' Amanda Plummer. Apparently everyone in the town of Visalia, CA is doomed as kids sleep with their girlfriend's mothers, practice autoerotic asphyxiation live and on camera (definitely not good til the last drop), fathers abuse the sons they find effeminate, girls rebel against dad's obsessive Catholicism with kinky sex games and serial killers in the making slaughter loving grandparents. Everything is staged to shock. The one funny visual joke, of a man drinking beer while peeing, is ruined by the need for tracking shot which stops on a closeup of his leaking member. The film *only* gets points for the naturalness of the ensemble acting. It galls me to think that other nations might believe this is what American youth is really like. 1/2 cat

Before the film I overheard an amusing comment. A young English journalist told a newfound Italian colleague 'I love watching films about f*&cked up Americans.'
We stay at the Sala Grande for the premiere of

Un Homme sans L'Occident (A Man without the Occident) (In competition, Upstream) France - Director Raymond Depardon's unique film is based on the Diego Brosset novel about the life of the last free man of the Sahara at the turn of the last century. Depardon's stunning black and white cinematography put us into the desert via the eyes of one of its denizens to see a world unknown to most of us. However, Depardon's story telling ability doesn't match his visuals. Narration which refers to the source novel downgrades the film into a book-accompanying pictorial and the latter part of the film is difficult to follow. Still the film's worth a look for the eye-popping vistas it presents. 2 1/2 cats
Time for a dinner break before heading to the Palagalileo for a 9:45 p.m. screening of Takeshi Kitano's latest

Dolls (In competition, Venezia 59) Japan - Kitano's obviously popular in Italy as his name on the screen prompts cheers and clapping from the press/industry crowd. Dolls is an omnibus film. The first part finds a young man, Matsumoto (Hidetoshi Nishjima) ditching his boss' daughter at the altar to return to his true love, who's been driven into a mental hospital by his actions. Sawako (Miho Kanno) remains mute and childlike as they gradually become homeless, tied together by a long red cord to keep Sawako from wondering off. Hiro (Tatsuya Mihashi) is an underworld boss who years for the days when an abandoned lover met him daily with a boxed lunch. He returns to the park decades later to find her (Chieko Matsubara) still maintaining the ritual, although she doesn't recognize him. Nukui (Tsutomu Takeshige) is one of Haruna's (Kyoko Fukada) biggest fans. When the pop star loses an eye in an accident and withdraws from public life, Nukui blinds himself in order to attain a meeting with her. "Dolls" was inspired by Japanese Bunraku, sophisticated puppet performances. The film looked gorgeous and was enthusiastically received, but it dragged and its point was lost on me. I yearn for the days when Kitano was more interested in killing people with chopsticks. 2 cats
Thursday, September 5
We sleep in, missing the 8:15 a.m. screening of My Name is Tanino, but we'll still see five films today. We head back to the Palagalileo at the more leisurely time of 10:45 for

Zendan-e Zanan (Women's Prison) (In competition, Upstream) Iran - Manijeh Hekmat's debut feature film harkens back to Warners Brothers' 1950 classic Caged (dir. John Cromwell). Idealistic Tahereh Yousefi (Roya Taymourian) arrives at a women's prison to quell revolts. She meets Mitah (Roya Nonahali), a young girl in prison for saving her mother by killing her stepfather. As three generations of women pass through the prison, some executed, some freed, we observe the society and injustices of the prison through its inmates and Iran's changing politics via their wardens. Pegah Ahangarani is a standout, playing three different young women, but it's the slowly cooked relationship of Nonahali and Taymourian's characters that ground the film. 3 1/2 cats
11'09"01 September 1111'09"01 September 11 (Special Event) - This outstanding omnibus is a French production featuring a short film from 11 global filmmakers. Their only guidelines were that the film be a reflection on 9/11 and that it be 11 minutes, 9 seconds and 1 frame in length.

Samira Makhmalbaf (Iran, Blackboards) leads with a a schoolteacher trying to relay the meaning of 9/11 to her Afghani refuge students. Their innocence is charming and Makhmalbaf's final image, of the children gathered for a moment of silence beside a smoking kiln tower, is haunting. 5 cats

Claude Lelouch (France, A Man and a Woman) looks at the event through the crumbling relationship of a deaf woman and her lover. 4 cats

Youssef Chahine (Egypt, Cairo Station) casts an actor as himself, then has a discussion with the ghost of American soldier killed in the Beirut bombing. Chahine explains why a Middle Eastern Muslim would see a regular American citizen as a valid target - because that citizen lives in a self-elected democracy. 2 1/2 cats

Danis Tanovic (Bosnia-Herzegovina No Man's Land) parallels the event with the tragedy of Srebrnica in Bosnia and the women who demonstrate on the 11th of each month. 3 1/2 cats

Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso, Afrique...Mon Afrique) wins for originality for his comedic tale of a group of young boys who try to capture Osama Bin Laden in their homeland for the $25 million reward, while also making social commentary. 5 cats

Ken Loach (Great Britain, My Name Is Joe) has a Chilean write a letter to the people of New York, empathizing with their tragedy by the Tuesday, 9/11 in 1973 when his President Allende was assassinated followed by the murder of 30,000 civilians. Loach uses George Bush's words to indict U.S. involvement. 5 cats

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Mexico, Amores Perros) uses a black screen and the sounds of the day in a horrifying montage occasionally jolted by a split second vision of a plane hitting the towers or a body tumbling from them. 5 cats

Amos Gitai (Israel, Kippour) does a cinema verite piece following a news team at the aftermath of a Jerusalem bombing whose airtime is eclipsed by news from New York. 3 1/2 cats

Last year's Golden Lion winner, Mira Nair (India, Monsoon Wedding) tells the true story of a missing man suspected of being a terrorist who turns out to have been a hero through the eyes of his mother. This one is emotionally uninvolving. 2 cats

Sean Penn (USA, The Pledge) tells the tale of a lonely widower (Ernest Borgnine) realizes the wife he still speaks to every day is dead when the towers' falling lets light into his apartment. Borgnine's terrific in this unexpectedly personal entry from Penn. 4 cats

Shohei Imamura (Japan, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge) delivers a head-scratcher about a Japanese WWII veteran who thinks he's a snake. The relevance of Imamura's piece is too broad. 1 cat

Television crews wait the packed press/industry crowd for their reactions as we exit the theater.
The Tracker (In competition, Venezia 59) Australia - Rolf de Heer (The Quiet Room) tells a simple story about a complex man. A fanatical British officer (Gary Sweet) leads a new recruit (Damon Gameau) and a drafted veteran (Grant Page) into the Australian outback circa 1922 to hunt down a murderous Aborigine (Noel Wilton), but the men are really being led by their Aboriginal tracker (David Gulpilil, Walkabout), who hides his agenda well. de Heer wrote the lyrics to ten original folk songs which beautifully complement the mostly visual film. Sweet is villainous to a fault and Gameau adroitly provides naivety, but veteran actor Gulpilil's the one to watch. 3 1/2 cats
La Forza del Passato (The Power of the Past) (In competition, Venezia 59) Italy - Children's fantasy writer Gianni (Sergio Rubini, The Talented Mr. Ripley) shows no emotion when his father dies - the rebellious communist hated his father's Fascist military career and emotional standoffishness. Enter Bogliasco (Bruno Ganz, Wings of Desire), a man Gianni takes for a nutcase, to tell Gianni that his father was, in reality, a lifelong spy. Piergiorgio Gay's film was one of the weakest of the films in competition. The use of fictitious literary characters to mirror father/son relationships has been done, and done better (1984's Cloak & Dagger), before. Not even the great Ganz can elevate this offering, due to an unsympathetic main character, although the punk-charged rock soundtrack is noteworthy. 2 cats
Dirty Pretty Things (In competition, Venezia 59) Great Britain - Director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity) and screenwriter Steven Knight take a look at London's illegal immigrants and the evil that preys upon them. Hardworking Nigerian Okwe (the charismatic Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a cabbie by day and a hotel receptionist by night. When he finds a human heart in a hotel room toilet, Okwe will go on a grueling journey through London's dark underbelly before attaining his dream. Dirty Pretty Things takes the legend out of the urban tale of kidney stealing in hotel rooms. Audrey Tatou (Amelie) is well cast as a Turkish girl in love with Okwe, but she's little more than damsel in distress. Sergi Lopez (With a Friend Like Harry) is gleefully nasty as Russian black marketeer and Benedict Wong is dryly funny as Okwe's bemused mortician attendant buddy, but its Sophie Okonedo who provides the sprightliest support as Juliette, a down to earth hooker. 3 1/2 cats

The screening is interrupted by cries for a doctor, although we never do learn what has happened.
Friday, September 6
10:15 a.m. press conference for 11'09"01 September 11

The Variety review which accused this film of being anti-American is immediately brought up by a Swedish journalist. Danis Tanovic states that this was certainly never his agenda. Samira Makhmalbaf says there are enough contrasts and conflicts on earth without film directors having to increase them. Inarritu states that it would be a shame if the American public were kept from seeing the film because of the perceptions of one guy. Claude Lelouch explains that his idea came from wanting to use silence. Amos Gitai steers the questions away from content to talk about form and notes that each filmmaker took a very different approach - narrative, sound, documentary - and notes that each tragic event produces works of art. Gitai and Tanovic appear to be enjoying themselves. Innaritu is earnestly passionate and talkative. Makhmalbaf makes a statement in English about how much she likes this film and why.
As the directors head off to the world premiere of their film, we head back to the Palagalileo for

Nizhalkkuthu (Shadow Kill) (In competition, Upstream) India - Filmmaker Adoor Gopalkrishnan (Walls) tells the story of a hangman (Oduvil Unnikrishnan) haunted by the execution of an innocent man years earlier. When the Maharaja sends for his services, the hangman tries to beg off claiming illness, but eventually he leaves with his son as backup. The night before the execution, the Maharaja's officials drink with Kaaliyappan and his son Sunil, and attempt to distract him with stories. One tale of a murdered young girl, seen in extended flashback, takes a surprising turn into the life of Kaaliyappan and Sunil. While beautiful to look at, it's slow moving and oddly sadistic. Another disappointment. 2 1/2 cats
We spend midafternoon taking advantage of the washing machine in our apartment and discover our initial attempt to buy laundry detergent resulted in a bottle of toilet cleaner. After correcting that error, we devise some strange methods for hanging a week's worth of laundry indoors, then head back to the Palagalileo.
Oasis (In competition, Venezia 59) Korea - Lee Chang-dong's miraculous love story is the find of the festival! Hong Jong-Du (Sol Kyung-gu, Peppermint Candy) is a social misfit, just released from prison after taking the rap from a brother's vehicular homicide. His inappropriate behavior even turns off his mother. When Hong decides to visit the family of the man his brother killed, he finds a man and his wife vacating a run down apartment, leaving the man's severely handicapped sister, Han Gong-Ju (Moon So-Ri, Peppermint Candy), behind. Slowly a love story emerges, where cerebral palsy victim Gong-Ju sees a knight in shining armor and Jong-Du sees a beautiful girl. Lee Chang-dong's fabulous work puts a gritty, urban spin on John Cromwell's post-war classic, The Enchanted Cottage. (Hmm, another John Cromwell film - are we onto a secondary theme here?) Sol Kyung-gu is fabulous as the guy even a mother could hate, but Moon So-Ri is so amazing it's a jaw dropping moment when she sheds her affliction in a fantasy sequence. The film's only drawback is a slightly cliched ending. 4 1/2 cats
Robin refuses to see the documentary Clown in Kabul because he's seen the real Patch Adams before and found the experience too scary to repeat, so we take the evening off.
Saturday, September 7
Back to the Palagalileo for an early, pre-press conference showing of

The Dancer Upstairs (Fuori Concorso) - John Malkovich's directorial debut about a South American police detective, Javier Bardem's (Before Night Falls) Rejas, hunting down a revolutionary guerilla leader while falling in love with Yolanda (Laura Morante, The Son's Room), his daughter's dance instructor, is merely okay. The Nicholas Shakespeare script is clearly indebted to the works of John Le Carre. Bardem gives a restrained performance in this character study, but the love story springs out of nowhere and the wife the script saddles him with is entirely implausible. 3 cats
11 a.m. Oasis press conference

Director Lee Chang-dong tries to convince us that he didn't set out to make a love story between handicapped people, but two ordinary people. Moon So-Ri explains how she worked with her director for two full months to get the physicality of her part right and attained a group of friends with cerebral palsy in the process. 'Love tells us what the limits are in all things,' she states.
11:30 a.m. The Dancer Upstairs press conference

Malkovich is back wearing the same odd suit he wore a week before for the Ripley's Game conference. He talks about the difficulty of getting his film made and that he wanted non-native English speakers forJavier Bardem his leads because he likes hearing English spoken with an accent. Laura Morrente claims to be more comfortable with body language than English, explaining that saying "Te Amo" causes her to emote whereas "I love you" is meaningless. Javier Bardem is a surprise - I was expecting a compellingly good looking, intense actor and got a charming goofball. Bardem relates that he uses directors as a parental substitute and that Malkovich weaned him of that. He says he loves Venice because he calls for a taxi and a boat comes. He ends several comments by declaring what he just said was stupid
We lug our press material to the postal booth outside the Casino to see about shipping everything home, as we'll be travelling in Italy for another 9 days after the festival ends. Our 15 kilos of material would cost 85 Euros! (about the equivalent in US dollars) to ship at the cheapest rate. We decide to line the bottom of our suitcase with it instead, then pack up for the day and head into Venice mainland.
Sunday, September 8
We get up for a 9 a.m. press screening at the Palagalileo of tonight's closing film.

Johan PadanJohan Padan - a la Descoverta de le Americhe (Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas) (Special Event) Italy - This delightful animation is based on true stories of a common man who escapes the law by stowing away on a ship that takes him from Venice to Seville. Getting out of a second scrape by selling his services to another departing vessel finds him, to his horror, en route to the New Land. This entertaining and educational cartoon would make a great import, although one wonders how American children would relate to the sights of maggoty cheese and Indian children peeing into cannons, not to mention the frequent use of the word 'Bastardo!' Those European notions of children's entertainment aside, Johan Padan could just as easily be the work of Disney, although the cute horse doesn't talk. 31/2 cats
We break to have our last lunch at our favorite pizzeria in town (Hosteria Ai do Mati) and pay scant attention to the sounds of police cars and ambulances. On our walk back to the Palagalileo, we discover a bus has crashed into a central island, looking like a scene from the end of Speed!

The last day of the fest gave us the opportunity to catch up with some films that were being repeated, although most conflicted with tonight's award ceremony press conference.
Fuehrer Ex (In competition, Venezia 59) Germany - Winfried Bonengel's film, based on true life events, shows neo-Nazism being bred in East Berlin prisons. Heiko (Christian Blumel) is a good looking innocent who follows the lead of his best friend Tommy (Aaron Hildebrand), a tough hell raiser. While Tommy's in jail for a rebellious political act, Heiko loses his virginity to Beate (Jule Flieri), a tough bohemian who sleeps with the legendary Tommy the first night she meets him. Tommy's plan to escape the East in a bid to go to Australia land him and Heiko in jail. Tommy easily falls in with the neo-Nazi crowd while Heiko fends off rapists. "Fuehrer Ex" is another disappointing competition entry. Initially interesting, the film falls apart in a last act that would have us believe that Heiko's become a neo-Nazi leader while Tommy's become a 'live and let live' type. The film which began with a suitably punk rendition of the East German national anthem is oddly scored like an old melodrama. This one smacks of sensationalism. 1 1/2 cats
The Magdelene SistersThe Magdalene Sisters (In competition, Venezia 59) Great Britain - Actor/director Peter Mullan's (My Name Is Joe) expose on the Catholic Magdalene Asylums of Ireland is a horrific look at sanctioned abuse. The first scene is wordless. Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) tells a female relative she was raped by cousin Kevin during a wedding. Glances are exchanged and come full circle via the town priest. Comely Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) flirts with some boys in an orphanage schoolyard. Patricia (Dorothy Duffy) wails the parish priest tricks here into giving up her newborn for adoption as her parents erect steely fronts. The three all enter the Magdalene Asylum where they wash away their sins in the convent's laundry business with no pay and no contact with the outside world. Mullan, who reportedly compared the Catholic Church with the Taliban in his press conference, has fashioned an unrelenting, dramatically compelling film. These heartbreaking tales (including one even more so than the original three's - that of Eileen Walsh's simple Crispina) are relieved by a feistiness of human spirit. Geraldine McEwan (Love's Labour's Lost) delivers an Oscar caliber supporting performance as Sister Bridget, a twisted villainous zealot with the occasional glimmer of near regret. An image of the nun reflected in the blood-rimmed eye of Dorothy, cut while having her hair forcibly shorn, embodies the film. 4 1/2 cats
We head over to the Casino, to set up in the press conference room. A large video monitor is set up so we can watch the closing ceremony going on next door at the Sala Grande.
The Golden Lion

Venice 2002 Award Winners

"Luigi De Laurentiis" Venice Award for a First Film
Due Amici (Spiro Scimone and Francesco Sframeli)
Rodger Dodger (Dylan Kidd)
Upstream Competition
San Marco Award (Best Film)
Springtime in a Small Town (Tian Zhuangzhuang)
Jury's Special Award (Runner Up)
A Snake of June (Shinya Tsukamoto)
Jury president Gong Li announces the Venezia 59 winners.
"Marcello Mastroianni" Award for Best Young Actor or Actress
Moon So-Ri (Oasis)
Coppa Volpi for Best Actress
Julianne Moore (Far from Heaven)
Coppa Volpi for Best Actor
Stefano Accorsi (Un Viaggio Chimato Amore)
(The most unpopular award in the press room)
Award for an Outstanding Individual Contribution
Ed Lachman (Director of Photography, Far From Heaven)
Special Director's Award
Lee Chang-dong (Oasis)
Golden Lion (Best Film)
The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan)
The winners are all gracious at the press conference, but only Mullan really entertains. He swaggers in a purple kilt with his lion in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He defends his Taliban statement and says the Church owes the victims of the Magdalene Asylums restitution. He hopes his win will get people, especially young women, to see his film. He explains that he has no tartan, being of Irish descent, and that he's rented his outfit for 60 some-odd pounds for 3 days. Then he adds that he can only wear it because he's in Venice because if he wore it at home his friends would beat him up - it's the most effeminate kilt in existence. Mullan garners sincere laughter and applause, signs a few autographs and makes his way off with his lion to celebrate. This win should appease those who found last year's awarding of the Golden Lion to Monsoon Wedding frivolous.

Boston International Festival of Women's Cinema Festival International du Film de MarrakechHigh Falls Film FestivalIndependent Film Festival of BostonProvincetown International Film FestivalSidewalk Film FestivalSundance Film FestivalToronto International Film FestivalTribeca Film Festival • Venice Film Festival