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9 days that shook the film world

The whole report day by day from day one.

In less than a week, on the fateful FridayThe Thirteenth of the current month (October 13, 2OO6), the First International Film Festival ever held in Rome will open the gates of the Eternal City to a floodtide of media representatives, journalists, film professionals, actors, directors, film fans, and just plain curious stargazers of all stripes and colours. Whether this new festival turns out to be a blast or a bust, or something in between, it is already the most eagerly anticipated event on this year's film festival calendar. If this is "The "Great Attractor" of the year, to some people in a certain city up north -- the one with the canals, gondolas, and the oldest film festival in the world -- it is worse than a distraction and more like a Black Hole trying to cannibalize all the other astral bodies in the immediate vicinity. The complaint command of the Venice Film Festival headed by groucher-in-chief, Marco Mueller, claims that the Roman upstart is trying to put them out of business by stealing films and film stars out from under their noses while lowering and vulgarizing the overall quality of the film festival concept, and even worse -- having the gall to schedule their event just one month after the one on the Lido, thus forcing film producers to choose between one or the other.

Meanwhile, Walter Veltroni, the mayor of the city of Rome and basically, the Godfather of the new festival, calmly states that "there is plenty of room in Italy for two successful film festivals." (In fact, there are quite a few others, each successful in their own way -- Torino in November, Taormina and Pesaro, earlier in the year, to name the more important ones). Veltroni points to the differences between the Rome and Venice festivals and says it is not his intention to compete with Venice but rather to celebrate film in general and bring it back to the people (as opposed to the exclusive professional posture of many festivals). The Rome Jury, for example, is not a festival jury in the usual sense -- a handful of film pros or intellectuals -- but will be composed of a panel of fifty (5O!) ordinary Italian filmgoers selected from a pool of 3,OOO applicants by the well known Italian film director Ettore Scola, 75, known outside of Italy for comedies such as "The Pizza Triangle - or Jealousy Italian Style" (with Mastroianni and Monica Vitti). Giorgio Gossetti who is the director of the new festival says that the Venetian fest is all about film as The Seventh Art, while the Rome festival is audience oriented and thinks in terms of film as entertainment --therefore, why talk about "competition" (harrumph).

As the location of Cinecitta, one of the largest film factories in the world, and the center of the Italian film industry there is no reason for Rome not to host some kind of film festival and it is rather odd that there hasn't been one there until now. Nicole Kidman, a popular actress if ever there was one, will inaugurate the festival by introducing her new film "Fur", billed as "An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus" (American high-fashion, high-art photographer, 1923-1971). The pic is directed by Steven Shainberg and co-stars Robert Downey, Jr. Other biggies coming up are Martin Scorcese's new and hotly discussed gangsta flick "The Departed", starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Italo-Americano Leonardo DiCaprio, a fantasy thriller "The Prestige" with Aussie heart-throb Hugh Jackman and Il Musico, David Bowie, long absent from cinematic action, plus a Richard Gere vehicle, "The Hoax". In the last mentioned, writer Clifford Irving (Gere) sells his bogus biography of Howard Hughes to a premiere publishing house in the early 1970s, unleashing a mild media frenzy. A really hot cast includes Alfred Molina, Hope Davis (that splendid lady from "American Splendor"), Marcia Gay Harden, Julie Delpy, and a truly venerable Hollywood icon, Eli Wallach. The director is Swede Lasse Hallström, best known for his arty cerebral "The Cider House Rules" of 1999.

The one thorny thing about the new Roman fest is not so much that it comes so soon after Venice, which might in itself be acceptable considering that festivals like Toronto and Montreal also run practically neck-and-neck, but that it is sandwiched right between Venice and Torino which will be coming up in November. Three big film festivals squished together like this does make for a certain overcrowding of the ledger. Depending on how well the Rome fest goes over, and, given the primo location and the probability that stars will be raining over the Colisseum like the meteor showers of August, there is little reason to suppose it will not go over anything but Bigtime -- and when the smoke clears a couple of weeks from now, some kind of summit meeting may have to be called for the pupose of decongesting the last third of the Italian festival calendar in 2OO7. (lest we see a wave of suicides on the Lido ...) It is not very likely that Venice will budge from its long established time slot in September, but Torino, less deeply entrenched might be open to persuasion, and Rome, as the new tough guy on the block may emerge from all this with the clout to call the shots any way it sees fit. At this point, however, it's all up for grabs and only time will tell. The fact that the festival opens on Friday the 13th seems to indicate that the organizers have no fear of the occult, are quite ready to get out there and "breaka da leg", and who cares about black cats crossing the Corso?
Well, Arrivederci a Roma e buona fortuna!
Alex in Budapest

Report 2,
October 14, 2006

Overheard at the reception desk of one of Rome's most luxurious Via Veneto hotels where the clerk on duty failed to recognize a tall gentleman with a bald pate, white mutton chops, a scraggly white beard and a discernible Scottish accent: CLERK: "May I have your name please? GUEST: Connery -- SEAN Connery ... I'm here to pick up a prize and I have a license to KILL. Now get me a martini -- a very DRY martini ... and be quick about it! -- Needless to say, the hapless desk clerk in question is now working in the laundry room and Sir Sean is the toast of the town with everybody, from top politicos to other movie stars vying for his attention and the honor of his company. The official black festival bag bears a likeness of Connery from his much younger James Bond-007 days holding a Luger at the ready, while the caption beneath reads "Non scherzo mai nelle cose di Lavoro" ... translation: "I never fool around when it comes to work".

With a magnificent setting on the Auditorium Della Musica grounds in a leafy northern suburb of Rome and an amazing guest list designed to gratify even the most jaded red carpet star-gapers, the new Rome Film Festival (Nota Bene: They're calling it a "Festa", not a "Festival -- the word "festa means "party") -- is off to a flying start exceeding the most optimistic of expectations. The Auditorium setting itself, with spacious event halls, ordinarily the home of large scale musical events and philharmonic concerts during the year, is now decked out with so many fairground type cinematic attractions, temporary souvenir shops, a large bookstore, numerous cinema exhibits, restaurants and snack bars, that the atmosphere here is more like a World's Fair of Cinema rather than just another film festival -- a giant nine day party involving the entire city of Rome -- and, lets not forget star opera and philharmonic conductor Riccardo Muti, who, not long ago relieved of his duties as top stick at La Scala in Milan, showed up here to conduct a sold-out concert based on famous movie themes.

For openers --the day before the festival even opened -- the local papers announced the debarcation at Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci Airport of her Ladyship, Nicole Kidman, his Lordship, SIR Sean Connery, and a pair of New Yorkers with Italian Names, Martin Scorcese and Leonardo Di Caprio, with many many photographs of the afore-mentioned all over the front pages of the dailies and the entertainment sections inside. When the current Festa was first announced some months ago the big scoop which turned many heads, was that they had managed to sign up Nicole Kidman, arguably, at this point the most admired screen actress in the world today, to inaugurate the proceedings by presenting her latest film "Fur", in person. The fact that "Fur" is not a particularly outstanding motion picture and was greeted here by the first-night audience with lukewarm assessments along the lines of; "well, it was okay, but", or, "Hmm -- so-so" -- is completely beside the point. The main thing is that Nicole chose Rome over Venice, which is where "Fur" probably would have been preemed had this Roman Candle not arisen to shake the boat --er, make that "the gondola". What the blandishments were to lure the alluring Aussie beauty to this particular venue is anybody's guess, but it may just be that a new film festival in Rome --the Eternal City, Fellini's Dolce Vita City -- was in itself attraction enough.

The pictures of her arriving at the airport were really funny -- blond locks mostly covered by a monstrous floppy cap, and wearing oversize sun goggles, as if this "disguise" would fool the famous Roman paparazzi. On stage the next day, presenting the film, she was dressed in an elegant white gown and played the leading lady to the hilt providing the opening night audience with a solid shot of glamour, and so what if the flick was only so-so. This was incidentally in the 2,800 seat Santa Cecelia Hall while the opening ceremony itself crowned by the Marcus Aurelius award to Mr. Connery for his life's work as an actor, took place in the neighboring Sinopoli Hall which also seats close to 2,000. The third hall in the complex is called "Petrassi" and, being smaller, is normally used for chamber concerts. All are state-of-the-art venues with excellent acoustics and grand vistas to the stage. Most big festivals, if they are lucky, have one really big hall for gala screenings. Rome has two and a half.

The high brick walls of the vast foyer leading up to the Sala Sinopoli screening hall are adorned with one of the most interesting photo exhibits I have ever seen -- large large B/W blowups of photos of various superstars of the 50s and sixties arriving at Rome airport. In those days it was probably to go before the cameras at Cinecittà. This was the pre-jet age of propellor aircraft such as the four engined Lockheed Constellations, parts of which are seen in some of the pix.

Among the personalities pictured arriving in Rome and Carrying Their Own Bags (!!) are Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner (1950), Jimmy Stewart and Charlton Heston (1958), a nearly unrecognizable Paul Newman with beard and shades, (1961), a still relatively slim Marlon Brando (1967), a young Sean Connery brandishing a black handlebar moustache, (1968), a trim Anthony Quinn in a tweed suit, John Wayne arriving with, of all people, Sophia Loren, Louis Armstrong, and so on, and so forth ... the kind of room where one could spend hours inspecting these incredible off the wall shots from the golden yesteryear of world cinema. This exhibit has the intriguing name of "CIAK-IN" a play on the words "Check-in" and "ciak", with is the Italian version of the sound that movie clap-boards make when slapped together to mark a take.

Speaking of Sophia Loren, a big question in some circles is, how come the once first lady of the Italian cinema, still active to a certain extent -- How come La Loren is nowhere in sight when just about everybody who is, or ever was, anybody in Italian film is most visibly here? Was she simply overlooked when it came to making up the guest lists ... or, is there some other more subtle reason? Well, according to one nosey Italian writer (-- but, who knows how trustworthy such gossip is? --), Sofia actually was sent an invitation, but only at the last minute as a kind of afterthought, which didn't sit right with the great Italian screen diva, so she "made other plans". According to this source (a distant cousin of Louella Parsons?) a telephone call to the Roman residence of Sophia's sister, Maria Scicolone, revealed that the actress is actually IN ROME at this moment, cooling it at her sister's pad while pointedly refraining from putting in any kind of appearance at the Auditorium grounds. This "insider" report goes on to intimate that she invited old friend Sean Connery over for coffee, and the Great Scott naturally accepted, but had to cancel at the last minute when he got held up at a dinner party given by the former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Poor Sophia, sitting there and gritting her teeth.


On the second night of the fest the astounding appearance of Italian Force-of-Nature, actress Monica Bellucci, on the red carpet for the premiere of "Napoleon And Me" caused such a sensation that it completely blew away the memory of Nicole Kidman out there the night before. For anyone not yet aware of just who Monica Bellucci is, this statuesque actress is currently Italy's most impressive export item and is constructed along the lines of an Anita Ekberg, vintage "Dolce Vita" -- only more beautiful in a brunette edition. Poured into a bright red off-the-shoulder décolleté gown which displayed her sumptuous proportions to the eye-filling max, Monica was accompanied onto the carpet by a platoon of gentlemen dressed in Napoleonic headgear, and her arrival unleashed an explosion of screaming by fans and oglers surging up against the restraining barriers reminiscent of the Call of the Wild or the Riot in Cell Block 11 -- plus a prolonged outburst of camera flashbulbs that must have registered a seven on the intergalactic supernova scale. Ms. Bellucci is on view in two films here, the Naploeonic saga starring Daniel Auteuil in the title role, and "The Stone Council", a French drama set in Asia where she plays a French scientist who adopts a young Thai boy. Her co-stars in "Council" are Catherine Deneuve and top German star Moritz Bleibtreu.

The only damper so far has been the death of the famous Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, whose passing occurred right on opening night. His wife was in the audience and had to be called away in the midst of the celebration. Pontecorvo was born in Pisa on November 19, 1919 and would have 87 next month. He was the last survivor of the postwar Italian Neo-Realism generation and is best known for "The Battle of Algiers" (1966) which showed the dirtiness of the Algerian War of Independence from both the French and Arab sides, and was called by director Mario Monticelli "a film which has not aged one minute" and is as timely today as it was forty years ago.
In somma -- in a word --The new Rome Film Fest has taken off like a bat out of Hell, is already in orbit, and is undoubtedly conjuring up the Worst Nightmares imaginable for the festival organizers of The Lido up north. Looking through the program for the coming days, however, I wonder if this dazzling pace can last the route, but there is no telling who will yet show up unannounced, and Harrison Ford has been engaged to do the honors on closing night, October 21. So, even if there is some slackening in the parade of stars during the week, there's

REPORT 3, October 14 – 15
FROM ROME WITH LOVE -- T"HE DEPARTED" -- Glad you asked ...
WED. October 17, 2006

As I open my INBOX in the press room today this is the first e-mail I see -- from film colleague and editor Tom, in Prague; "Ahoy, Alex: Sounds like you're having a helluva time over there! -- Vino pouring freely, sexy women lurking everywhere -- la dolce vita! Did you see the Scorsese flick? How was the press conference? Haven't been too impressed with him lately and Di Caprio can kiss my ass, but Marty did make a few great ones. Always waiting for the comeback. Tom"
Ahoy, Tomasso -- Yessiree -- Life is pretty sweet here in Rome at the moment, and I'm glad you asked about Scorcese! I was just getting ready to knock out the usual cagey, diplomatic, journalistically correct (JC) review of "The Departed" but with you, of course, I don't have to hedge my bets or pull my punches, and can tell the Truth -- the Hole Truth, and nothing but The Truth... So, for openers, the bottom line is, NO --this is not the great comeback for Scorcese -- in fact it's a regression even further back into obvious crass commercialism than was "Aviator", which was pretty damn regressive, not to mention a pile of horseshit. To start with, both Nicholson AND Dicaprio were SERIOUSLY miscast -- The best role in the whole film is MARK WAHLBERG --(fast becoming my favorite Hollywood actor) -- who should get a Purple Heart for having to give his all in the company of these phoney stars who walk away with all the credit --as if there was anything creditable to speak of -- while he actually keeps this monstrosity afloat whenever he's on. The interview following the press screening was FAR more interesting than the film itself, which I found hard to actually sit out and squirm through.

For one thing, too much rapid artsy-fartsy intercutting between the parallel stories of how Dicaprio and Damon infiltrate the police department and The Mob, respectively. The whole shebang was far too intricate for a Boston based gangsta Story and shoulda "stayed in bed", which is to say, in Hong Kong, where it started out -- and where it belongs. An exercise in glossy bullshit all around --(nobody can accuse Scorcese of not making Good-Looking, high-GLOSS films -- even if there's no 'there' there otherwise...) and also -- according to Scorcese in the following Press Con, an excercise in "experimentation". Well, maybe that was the problem -- It's so Experimental that it falls apart in every other scene without ever getting it together anywhere in between. The only thing that makes it more or less tolerable are the very good supporting roles by Alec Baldwin (always good), Wahlberg (always superb), and Martin Sheen (always interesting, especially now with white hair), but there is one key supporting role that is pathetically bad --the police psychiatrist, played by an unknown (and unappealing) actress by the name of Vera Farmiga. For Christ Sake -- Whoopy Goldberg would have done a much better job! This gal must be a friend of the family -- in fact the whole film feels to me like an expensive home movie made by Scorcese for and with his family and friends. The bottom Line? P. U. -- "The Departed" sucks heavily. Glad you asked.

By the way the Italian press and public both lapped it up by the Loving Spoonfull, but then, they were filtering it through the Italian subtitles -- which made it gain things that weren't there -- or shall we say, were "FOUND IN TRANSLATION -- Coppola that with the simple fact that neither Scorcese nor Dicaprio can possibly do Any Wrong here in Italy -- even if they ate spaghetti with chopsticks -- and you've got another smash hit here for Marty boy. Given the obvious star power of the main cast and the advance (paid-off?) hype to the effect that Marty is "back in stride doing his gangster stuff", I would be hesitant to predict that this awful picture will go under in America, but somebody watching the parade just hasta come out and say it --when the king ain't wearing a single goddamn stitch!

As for the main roles, it's maybe not so much that Jack Nicholson was miscast as an Irish Maffia don, but rather that he's gotten to be such a gigantic Ham that all he ever does anymore is imitate himself as the Devil in "The Witches of Salem", or play an old creep on constant viagra overdose. To my mind, he's had an interesting career, but it's time for him to stay in bed --for good! Nevertheless, because of some sort of star-inertia principle (a moving Hollywood Box Office Force tends to keep moving in a straight line as long as money can be drained out of it), his face and name still sell tickets at the B.O. Viggo Mortensen would have been more credible in the role. As for Leonardo -- well, to see the way he beats the shit out of all kinds of heavy thugs in this pic, with the greatest of ease, you'd hafta think he was the baddest ass who ever lived. A bare-knuckled Billy The Kid, when actually we all know he's a frail, sensitive, loving chap who wouldn't hurt a fly -- be cause he doesn't have the strength to! This all has about the same credibility level as a tubercular looking Montgomery Clift knocking John Wayne for a loop in "Red River". Matt Damon, the third big name in the cast, is acceptable since he's not called on to do anything but what he always does best -- a grown up hoodlum with a working-class Boston accent who wishes he could have made it to Harvard. Hate to disappoint you, pal, but let me know what you think when you get to see it -- and just remember: Never trust a flim critic! -- For my Next Exclusive -- stand by for two exceptionally interesting press conference reports -- Scorcese and Dicaprio, followed by Richard the Gere.
Alex in the press room, Rome.

by Alex Deleon, Festa di Roma

So much is happening here that the only way to keep track of events and films is this -- a free associational diary, plus a wing and a prayer. But let me preface it by noting that this is the most sensational film festival I have ever attended, period. SUNDAY: Two films and two remarkable press conferences. The day starts with a 9 AM press screening of Scorcese's "The Departed" in the big hall. This is followed by a meeting with the press with Scorcese and Dicaprio up on the stage, accompanied by the actress Vera Farmiga, who plays a police psychiatrist in the film. There is an excellent (sexy) interpreter by the name of Olga, translating -- not only the words but the body language as well -- smoothly from English to Italian and vice versa, without missing a beat. Present in his usual front row seat is Steve Ashton of the Napa valley Vino-and-Film festival. Last saw him at San Sebastian only a couple of weeks ago. "Hey Steve, you're back in Europe again after only a two week break? -- "Hell, no, says Steve --"Been hanging out in Barcelona 'cause I didn't wanna miss this one." -- Smart decision. -- Short pause to recover from the "Departed" conference, and before long the next personality up on the stage is Richard Gere doing a solo flight, repping his new film "The Hoax" and somewhat in a hurry to get back to location in Croatia where he's in the midst of shooting his next film.
Both the Scorcese/Dicaprio and Richard Gere press conferences were dutifully recorded on tape and both were so rich in information and revelation that they need to be transcibed verbatim as a seperate report, for which there is no time at the moment. One thing that struck me was the sophistication of the questions at both sessions which induced the participants to shoot some of their best and most revealing shots. Queried as to his long-standing ”sex symbol” standing, Mr. Gere shrugged it off with a weary smile. ”I’m fifty-seven years old so I think it’s about time for me to get on with other things”, he replied in an uncharacteristically self-deprecating manner.

Still in the same room, the next event is a screening of the new Mira Nair film, "The Namesake", a Bengali-English family study which turns out to be a beaut -- her best film ever in my opinion, and I've seen all of her work up to now (and not really been enthralled by any of it)...

MONDAY: Morning coffee and croissant at my local Café on S. Maria Maggiore Square, while perusing all the festival stories in four Italian newspapers. The big party the night before was the "Napoleon" reception where the Belle of the Ball was Monica Belluci, still clad in her skin-tight blood red gown from the gala screening before. All papers full of Bellucci in full color and B/W --Bellucci images everywhere --not at all hard on the eye to say the very least. Among the guests at the party with his new skinhead coiffe, actor Willem Dafoe, who now makes his residence in Italy, Isabella Rossellini, and just about every other living Italian film personality except for Sophia Loren. Don't get to the fair grounds until early afternoon, just in time to catch three films, but no press conferences. However, lots of shmoozing between times, coffee and mixing with lots of people, all in a very good mood.

The films: All three were viewed at the fourth theater on the fair grounds, the "Pala Roma Uno" which is a temporary sdcreening hall set up just for the festival, tro be taken down afterward. While not fancy and elegant like the Auditoriums inside the complex, this turns out to be the best place to actually watch films. Very spacious with the feeling of a circus tent, but set up specifically for film viewing and nothing else -- roomy seats (well over a thousand), a giant screen, great sound and unobtrusive air-conditioning. Film number one "Les Ambitieux" (Ambitious), French, written and directed by distaff helmer Catherine Corsini, was a total delight and a discovery in every way -- all actors unknown to me, and all excellent, brilliant photography, brilliant dialogue, a script that keeps you guessing while pulling you inexorably along, and reaches a heart-warming conclusion -- after some harrowing ups and downs -- freeze-framing on a final clinch between reconciled hero and heroine -- who could ask for anything more? The funny thing is that this story about a frustrated young writer (Eric Caravaca) and an extremely sexy, slightly older, woman book editor (the marvellous Karen Viard), is set in the rarified world of Parisian book publishing, whereas the very next film on the agenda, "The Hoax", is also a publishing world tale, this time set in the even more rarified and intense New York publishing scene. Come to think of it, that was a helluva (unplanned) "double feature" and it would be very interesting to hit the public with these two films in tandem, back to back, just to see what would happen.

Gere's "The Hoax" directed by Swede Lasse Hallström, is a semi-documentary recounting of the biggest hoax in American publishing history -- the fake "autobiography" of Howard Hughes foisted upon gullible editors and public alike in the mid 1970s by hack writer Clifford Irving. (Okay, maybe he wasn't such a hack, but can you imagine Richard Gere in a red Bruce Springsteen wig doing anything else but hacking?). In all justice to Gere he does a terrific job -- a bravura performance, to put it bluntly (and he does) -- a role that fits him like a glove and he it. All that Tibetan Bhuddism aside (and I do not question the sincerity of the actor's commitment in that particular sphere of reality) Richard is a past master at portraying sleazy types, and Clifford Irving is perhaps his all-time sleaziest characterization. In his press conference Mr. Gere had much to say about the difficulty of portraying an actual living human being as opposed to a fictional character, but added, pointedly, that real life is far more bizarre than fiction! The picture itself is bizarre from beginning to end, such that I still don't know quite what to make of it, but will attempt to pull my thoughts together in an upcoming report. Let's just say for now that Gere was very convincing as Irving -- maybe even too convincing! The character of Howard Hughes lurking constantly in the background practically turns the recluse billionaire into a ghostly co-star -- plaudits here to the director for his clever use of Hughesian imagery. There are parts of the film where, Gere-Clifford becomes so obsessed with pretending to be Hughes thast he dresses up as the man whose autobiography he is faking, and even masters the nuances of Hughes' odd vocal delivery -- to such an extent that one wonders whether Martin Scorcese didn't make a big mistake in „The Aviator” by not casting Gere in the Hughes role instead of Dicaprio. With Dicaprio it was basically a phoney Hollywood dud -- with Gere as Hughes it might have gone down as one to remember.
A definite distraction in ”Hoax” was the sickening portrayal by Alfred Molina of Irving’s Jewish buddy and partner in white-collar crime, Dick Susskind. Every time Mr. Molina came on I had to reach for my anti-nausea pills. On the distaff side Hope Davis finally has a juicy role in a big budget film, playing one of the pushy leaders of the Random House publishing team assigned to the Clifford book, and Marcia Gay Hayden delivers another harassed wife portrayal with her usual verve. A delicious Julie Delpy plays Clifford’s extramarital paramour, Nina Van Pallandt, but is, unfortunately not in the picture very much. Wish I coulda seen more of Delpy and less of Gay Hayden! An interesting sidelight on the van Pallandt connection. Nina Van Pallandt, a Danish cabaret singer and later Hollywood actress, did indeed have a much publicized affair with the writer Clifford Irving ruring the Hoax period, and also had a small part as one of Richard Gere’s girlfriends ”American Gigolo”, the 1979 flick which made the then thirty year old actor an overnight star.

The third film of the day was the Castilian Viggo Mortensen starrer "Altamira", but about that, manana --domani!
Alex in the press room --closing time ...More tomorrow, same time., same station.
INSERT: Viggo Mortensen heroic on and off screen.
„ALATRISTE ” is a very heavy-duty Spanish cape-and-sword flick directed by Spanish veteran Agustín Díaz Yanes, (b.195O) and starring Danish American actor Viggo Mortensen (of „Lord of the Rings”). The story is set it the Seventeenth century in the Reign of Philip IV as Spain is in decline from its position as the dominating European superpower, and follows the dedicated soldier of fortune Diego de Alatriste y Tenorio through 20 years of his life, from the grim muddy wars in Flanders in 1623 to those against France in 1643. Viggo, speaking vintage Castillian Spanish with his own voice, dominates the film as a kind of Medieval Clint Eastwood, short on words, long on deadly action when required, but this is no swashbuckler in the Hollywood tradition. This is a realistic, nitty-gritty historical picture with realistic sword brawls devoid of the balletic qualities of an Earl Flynn-Basil Rathbone encounter. This movie is down and dirty and not for the faint of heart, but it is monumental in concept and execution. Sergio Leone would have loved it, but so would Michael Curtiz. There is plenty of story and romantic interludes are supplied by the superb Spanish actress, Ariadna Gil. Gil plays an actress who declaims Golden Age Spanish drama on the stage while Velazquez is completing his famous canvas of „The Surrender of Breda”. . Mortensen's Captain Alatriste, under the wide brimmed hat with a peculiar Anzac twit, raspy voice, cold-eyed gaze and menacing professional manner, is everything the rolerequires, and his performance is one of the triumphs of the film. I think it was a bit too heavy for the late evening Italian audience bu it certainly left a strong mark on my own Castillian speaking consciousness. Hard to tell if this picture will sell outside of Spanish speaking territories, buti n my estimation it’s one of the best costume dramas of its kin din years – and pőlenty of battlefield action for the violence freaks.
Viggo who was in town to boost the film pulled a little off-duty heroism of his on own the street in Rome when, in plain clothes, he drove off a pack of hoodlums who were molesting a girl, gleeully and dutifully reported in all the the local papers.

ROME-DAY SIX --THE CUP RUNNETH OVER -- The opening star salvos have now slacked off temporarily which allows more time to get around to the business of actually seeing aome motion pictures. Howecver -- not to worry -- more Hollywood star power in the wings ready to give this festa a glorious sendoff in the final days. Robert

In between, yesterday, there was a special appearence -- a sort of open panel discussion , involving three famous graduates of the New York Actors Studio; Lee Grant, Eli Wallach (90) and Martin Landau. This was within the framework of an Actors Studio sidebar covering some thirty films featuring such screen legends as Brando. Clift, Newman, and many others, besides the above mentioned. The Actors Studio selection is mouth-watering and would make a respectable film festival all by itself. The offerings here at this Rome extravaganza are simply incredible -- L'embarras des Richesses -- an overload of riches in a big way. ."If one wanted to get Biblical about it, one might say "The cup runneth over” -- in every direction. The films on view are so varied and so well selected that half a book could be written on that topic alone. Time limitations prohibit detailed comment at this point in the game, but the following is a partial list of films seen so far with brief remarks.

"The Departed", Scorcese -- a case of bigtime talent abuse that will probably make a lot of money for Warner Brothers.
Mira Nair's "The Namesake" -- A beautiful Bengali family saga set in Calcutta and New York. Her best film ever and redeems the muck she made of "vanity Fair".
"Les Ambitieux" -- a french love drama set in the Parisian publishing world. My favorite film so far --totally satisfying in every way.
”The Hoax” – Gere in high gea,r but overall the film is so skittery it tends to derail in parts – nauseating supporting role by Molina doesn’t help. Howard Hughes’ ghostly presence throughout holds it together
"Mon Colonel"— The Algerian war reconsidered -- written by Costa-Gavras with his touch all over it -- -”Council of Stone” -- Bellucci in Siberia -- a Shamanistic comic book for the twelve year olds, but she's so good looking, who cares! Co-star is Deneuve as a most evil bad-lady!
"Alatriste" – Viggo Mortensen speaking Castillian as a XVIth century Clint Eastwood -- Heavy duty historical pic with no-nonsense cape and sword work. Mortensen is memorable.
"La Sconosciuta" –The screaming return of Tornatore -- had to run out! --But those who stayed the distance felt rewarded. Story of a Ukrainian gal who gets into italy via a sordid Sado-Masochism club.
"This Is England"–Skinheads in Thatcher England. An excellent perfectly tuned social study with winning juvenile role.
"The Prestige": Magical bullshit directed by Christopher Nolan, with Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson: Good cast wasted on dickhead story. Also an unrecognizable David Bowie as the Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla. Scarlett needs a lot more work to polish her chops. Being Hungarian is not enough ...

Tuesday -- Another day of three films: ”Mon Colonel” (French) directed by Larent Herbier and written by Costa Gavras is another look at the Algerian war of independence. The story centers on he investigation into the assassination of a French Colonel who, way back then (early 196Os), was a ruthless war criminal. The film has all the expected Costa-Gavras touches and is as fascinating as a mystery story – who dunnit and why – as it is a political document, doubly relevant today because of the conflicts ongoing in the Moslem World. Incidently, the perpetrator of the assassination turns out to be (for good reeason) the iconic French actor-singer Charles Aznavour.
The next picture was "This is England”, an extremely engaging study of life among the skinheads in a woe-begotten Northern English town during the Thatcher administration and the Falkland Islands war. The central figure is a twelve year old boy, clearly a gifted young actor, Thomas Turgoose, who plays Shaun in the film. Director is Shane Meadows, one of the most highly regarded newer British directors. Both director and his young star, Thomas were present at certain screenings. Excellent film – it won a special jury prize.

October 20, 2006
Harrison Ford and his agent, Jim Berkus, are here today to receive a special agent's award created just for this festival to honour the memory of Ford's long-term industry personal rep, Pat Queeny, who passed away last year. Harrison looked quite weary and jet-lagged out but manage to give good Press Conference in a low serious voice. Among points covered: The environment, the function of the agent in an actor's career, how he works with other actors such as Tommy Lee Jones, political involvement, plans to direct, his next film "Indiana Jones IV" and etcetera-- --

Also here today, 91 year old Italian director Mario Monicelli, still active.
A documentary about him shot on the set of his latest film in the desert of Tunisia was presented followed by a fascinating discussion with the admiring Italian public that was like a family affair. Off now to see Danish director Susan Bier's latest work, "After the Wedding" which has a good buzz going for it. Alex Deleon on the run as the Fest gears up for the final blaze of glory...

Susan Bier’s Danish drama, "After The Wedding” (Efter Brylluppet). Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) an ex-pat Dane works in India taking care of homeless orphans. He has a particularly close relationship with a boy Pramod (age 8). His Indian overseer receives an offer from Copenhagen for big money to assist the project. This will require the mysterious ex-pat to return to Kbh after a long absense of many years to negociate the transaction. He goes, very reluctantly, but not before solemnly promising the boy that he will be back for his birthday, only eight day away. In Copenhagen he meets the millionaire Jorgen (Rolf Lassgaard) who invites him to his daughter's wedding party. It turns out that Jorgen's current wife, Helene, (Sidse Babett-Knudsen) is an ex-flame of Jacob's. At the wedding party the young bride announces to the jolting discomfort of all that Jorgen is not her real, genetic father. It now turns out that she is actually the offspring of Jacob and Helen's affair many years before. This is most disturbing to Jacob who did not know of the existence of this now full-grown daughter, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), who has been raised by Jorgen as his own -- not to mention the daughter herself, who feels betrayed by everybody. This leads to severe complications, confrontations and soul searching by all involved. Jorgen, nevertheless, offers Jacob the sky -- and a fund in perpetuity in his name and that of Anna, his new found daughter. One condition: Jacob must remain in Denmark and not go back to India. Jacob is highly suspicious of the Millionaire's motives for all this unexplained and seemiingly paradoxical generosity. The kicker is that Jorgen is dying but has revealed this to noone until now. What should Jacob do? -- accept the offer which would save all his young Indian charges from a life of depravation on the streets, or turn the offer down and go back to Bombay where he pomised Pramod to be back in time for his birthday. Jorgen dies after a heart-wrenching last scene with the guilt feelings beset wife. Sob-sob. Funeral. Jacob back in India offers to take Pramod back to Denmark where he would lead a life of luxury. The kid refuses. He wants to stay with the people he knows best. Sob-sob. This is a very high-style sob-story that is also very depressing but, indisputably, an "auteur film" all the way. Susan Bier is one of the foremost female director's at work in Europe today and makes glossy, high concept, slick psychological studies with excellent actors. I know this was a very good film but I was in so much pain watching it that I couldn't wait for it to be over. Alex in the press room, Rome. Tomorrow, the arrival of El Grande from Tribeca, Roberto De Niro -- (Are you tawkin na ME! )

by Alex De leon, Rome, Saturday, October 21

If this is Saturday the festival must be over, but there is still so much going on all over the festival grounds,late movie shows, crowds flocking to the Viosconti cinema exhibit, etc., that it feels like this will last forever. A big crowd is assembled out by the red carpet for the last gala, "Fascists on Mars" a new Italian Comedy set in the near future on The Red Planet! De Niro's meet the people event was situated in the large Sinopolo auditorium and clips from various of his films were shown -- (my favorite the fight between Jake Lamotta and Sugar Ray in "Raging Bull") -- including a section from his just completed "The Good Shepherd", directed by De Niro and written by Erich Roth of "The Horse Whisperers".
The brief Plot Summary for his new picture goes like this: Bottom Line; “Edward Wilson believed in America, and he would sacrifice everything he loved to protect it. The true story of the birth of the CIA through the eyes of a man who never existed.”
The pic stars Matt Damon as Wilson and Angela Jolie as his wife. Others in the cast, De Niro, Alec Baldwin and William Hurt. The excerpt shown looked very good, but De Niro himself did not look very good at all, slumped down in an armchair on the stage and looking older than his 63 years. He tends to mumble when he talks so that the audio portion of all this was very garbled. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see the love for an Italian-American actor, super popular here in Italy, radiating from the audience. The Italians obviously think of him as one of their own. As far as I could tell he didn't say anything of unusual interest. Tomorrows Italian papers may carry a different story.

The day before, yesterday, it was Harrison Ford in a similar role, meeting the Italian press and public. Harrison looked quite fatigued and, although he does not mumble like DeNiro, speaks in such a soft low voice that again, one had to strain to hear what he was saying. I need to run and pack because tomorrow is getaway day, so details on Ford's press conference will have to await a later date. The big Fordian news, however, is that he is preparing still another installment of Indiana Jones, twenty years after. Says Ford that the first three were basically the same tale with slight variations, but the next one will take into account things that have happened in the world since then (and also his own aging process!). Ford has been a leading Hollywood star (and a world star) for nearly four decades (since his debut in American Graffiti) and makes no bones about being a box office actor whose main interest is in making films of mass entertainmnet. What counts for him, he says, is whether people turn out to see the picture – otherwise, why bother? In this respect he has had few misses in his long career. He is also involved in several international committees devoted to environmental issues and had interesting things to say about stars and celebrities who associate themselves with causes. He spoke at length about the pressure of population on the resources of the planet and said that something must be done very soon to mitigate the effects on the environment on a global scale, which is to say, not only in the developed world, but in the underdeveloped parts of the world as well. He is a man of measured words and serious demeanor, very much in contrast to voluble talkers and crowd pleasers like Scorcese, Dicaprio and Gere, who preceded him here in the first part of the festival.

The bottom line on the Rome Film Festival, and Fiesta, is clear as the light of day. Rome has passed the test with flying colors and Roll over Venice, Beethoven, and anybody else who thinks this film event has been just a flash in the pan. Rome is here to stay and it will be fascinating to see how it develops, what directions it take in future editions, and how the overall film festival calendar will be affected, especially here in Italy.
Alex -- heading for exits...

October 21, 2006
A magical week in Rome has finally reached something like a conclusion with a wonderful concert in the state-of-the-art Santa Cecilia Philharmonic Audirorium preceeding the official awards ceremony. The concert under the energetic baton of resident conductor Antonio Pappano at the unusually early hour of 11 AM opened with a rousing rendition of Rossini's William Tell Overture which brought the house down in an explosion of enthusiastic applause and cheers. This was followed in rapid succession by a medley of familiar operatic numbers: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, the overture from Verdi's La Forza del Destino, the intermezzo Act II, from Puccini's Manon Lescaut, and then -- a surprise switch for the skedded final number which was listed on the program as the Rakoczy March from Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust" -- the Star Wars music by American composer John Williams. This was performed by the Santa Cecilia orchestra, surely one of the best in Italy. and Mr. Pappano' s stick work us something to see, more or less in the flamboyant Leonard Bernstein tradition. Talk about music to set the mood for an awards ceremony -- this was it -- a delicious philharmonic concert in its own right on other grounds. The acoustics and sight lines of the five year old Santa Cecilia auditorium are among the best in the business, whetting one's appetite to witness other musical events here.

Next up, the official awards ceremony. presided over by senior Italian director Ettore Scola. Let me preface this by saying that the awards as such are merely incidental -- There were so many good films in various categories that, who cares which ones got what. The real Grand Prix goes to the festival itself. That said, an announcement was made regarding the Rome Metro accident which occurred during the week, to the effect that the ceremony would observe a note of solemnity in respect for the victims of the sad underground collision. The mayor of Lazio province said that the fest was sponsored by 70 percent private money and that this was the first, but most definitely not the last Rome film festival. (Loud applause and "hear yeas") -- The first official presenter was actress Ornelli Muti, 51, the only Italian actress to atttain international recognition after the generation of Lollogibrida and Loren, who presented the best actress award to Ariane Ascaride for her work in Robert Guediguian's "Le Voyage en Armenie". In a trim black slacks outfit and long straight hair falling down her back, La Muti, a big sex symbol back in the seventies, looked like she could still play a personnage half her actual age. The popular jury made of of fifty normal film buffs hand picked by Mr. Scola from a large pool of aspirants, chose the Russian entry "Izobrazhaya Zhertvy" (Playing the Victim) by Kiryl Serebrennikiv, as Best Film. The young Russian director, speaking in Russian through an interpreter, said that he never expected to win a prize here since this was a film which he made with soley the Russian audience in mind, but was greatly pleased to be awarded here in the "capitol of Euopean cinema". This, needless to say, brought forth a big round of appreciative applause. A special jury prize went to the Shane Meadows film "This Is England", a study of skinhead racism in Thatcher's England. Said the director, "I am very honored to be recognized in this city and in a country which has its own racial problems, for such a difficult film on such a touchy subject." I saw the film and thought it not particularly "touchy", but simply well made, insightful and very entertaining. One Italian viewer after the screening described it as "bellissima" and I couldn't agree more.

A sad and sentimental moment occurred when Mrs. Gillo Pontecorvo, the widow of the recently departed iconic Italian director of "The Battle of Algiers", was given a bundle of flowers and a special award in the name of her deceased husband. The entire audience stood up at attention for a heart felt moment of respect. Among the many Italian film personalities who participated in the ceremony was 76 year old director Giuliano Montaldo, whose "Sacco and Vanzetti" travelled around the world to universal acclaim in 1971. As the auditorium emptied after the proceedings a small tight throng formed around actress Muti, who, while no longer the star she once was, still has that catlike beauty that makes people stop and stare. The event was followed by a wine tasting out in the foyer featuring champagne and all the "Vino Nobile a Montepulcianno" one could hope to imbibe in a brief "happy hour". I myself, who am by no means a wine connoisseur, became one on the spot after about five goblets of the marvellous red liquid. A Tuscan red wine to remember next time you're in Italy -- and I'll (urp) repeat that -- "Fattoria del Cerro --Vino Nobile di Montepulcianno", 2003. (Is that a faint voice I hear from the distant past -- in a gravely voice shouting -- "UMBRIAGGO!" --Thank you,. Shnozzle Durante!) -- The festival is not quite over yet --still to come later today, a encounter with Roberto DeNiro, fresh in from Tribeca, New York. It seems to me that there is little left to say at this point, (following a jet lagged Harrison Ford yesterday) -- other than, yessirree -- fukkin Aye! --this festival has been a rousing success and is obviously not a one-shot phenomenon—By the way (says Marco Mueller, lurking in the shadows on a side street behind Via Veneto)-- Are you talkin' a ME!?

Deleon, Rome -- REPORT 8,
Budapest, October 26.
LOOKING BACK AND TAKING STOCK on the nine days that shook the world.
The first three days it was all about the Hollywood stars -- Kidman, Connery, Dicaprio, Scorcese and Gere. The opening shots were so strong that on the third day one Italian newspaper proclaimed that "The Rome Film Festival is already a myth!" -- In fact, had the festival ended right there, it would still have gone down as one of the film events of the year, but that was only the opening salvo. It then settled into an Italian show with la Magnifica (the celestial body) Monica Bellucci leading the way. Monica was in two films, "Napoleon and Me" and "The Stone Council", so her fans were rewarded with two Bellucci sessions on the red carpet. In the latter film, an occult thriller set in Irkutsk and Mongolia -- Monica speaks French most of the time, Russian some of the time, and looks great all of the time although clad throughout in frumpy unglamorous outfits. This woman can make a burlap bag look good and I don't buy the "received wisdom" that she can't act. Aside from the fact that her looks tend to blind one to any thespian deficiencies, she has been quite up to snuff acting-wise in every picture I've seen her in. Just because she's so beautiful she doesn't need to act (very much), doesn't mean she can't act.

Giuseppe Tornatore was back after a six year absence with the heavy hitting psycho-drama "La Sconosciuta", well-received generally, though it drove some to the exits before the end and the overPOWERING Morricone score made it sound more like Grand Opera than grand cinema. His last, incidentally, was "Malena" (2OOO) in which Bellucci starred as a small town beauty who fraternizes with an occupying German soldier with drastic results such as getting her head shaved. That was the pic which more than any other brought Bellucci to world attention. A thirty film Sean Connery retrospective took place mostly in another part of town and a selection of over thirty films featuring star graduates of the Actors studio such as Brando, Clift, Newman and Eli Wallach were also shown in other venues about town.

In between there was the Actors Studio trio in-person symposium led by Martin Landau (with Eli Wallach, 9O, and Lee Grant) -- totally sold out so that journalists who didn't book in time (like Yours Truly) were shut out, and then it all wound up with another double-barreled shot from Hollywood -- Harrison Ford and De Niro on the final two days. De Niro said that coming here was like "coming home" (to "casa mia") and mayor Veltroni presented the New York actor, not with a key to the city of Rome, but with an authentic Italian Passport (!), which basically makes him an honorary citizen of this country. There was so much star power in evidence here that some critics were calling it "Romangeles" and accusing the festival of too much Hollywood brown nosing -- sour grapes, ladies and gentlemen -- sour grapes. You never hear these same clowns complaining when the stars pop up like daisies at Berlin or Cannes or Venice ... There were also plenty of other European and Asian actors and directors around -- certainly enough to satisfy the "auteurs of tomorrow" and geographic exotica freaks. The winning Russian film, it was pointed out by somebody, was turned down by the Venice selection committee. Well how ’bout that -- the non-professional jury here thought a Venice reject was good enough for the main film prize, so that proves that the Roman public is more snooty than the Venetian critical elite? -- or what! In any case, at least one writer drew a parallel between Rome and Venice -- They both reward films that nobody's ever going to see! (outside of Russia).

Stats in round numbers: 1O2,OOO tickets sold, 48O,OOO visitors, 5,5OO accredited, of which 1,7OO journalists and 2OO photographers. Children from 78 different schools were also entertained in the "Alice in the Cities" youth section. The Visconti exhibit with original costumes used in many of his films was packed day after day. Via Veneto (about a mile away from the festival grounds), the original "Dolce Vita" street, was turned into the "Business Street" of the festival and became an improvised film market to fill the gap left by the demise of MIFED (the Milan Film Market). Plans are to double the size of the market in 2OO7 (but without the ostentatious booths of the types one sees at Cannes and Berlin) and -- to make up for the slight Slight suffered by la grande dame of Italian cinema, Sofia Loren, Hizzoner the Mayor Veltroni has officially invited her to be the official Godmother of the Second Edition next year. Talk about turning an oversight to one's advantage -- couldn't have worked out better if they planned it that way.

Many of the films shown were European or world premieres, attesting to the confidence producers had in this event as a launcing pad. In some cases premieres were way in advance of US release. Gere indicated that "The Hoax" will, for various reasons, not be released in the States until next spring, which might nix it for Oscar consideration. In many ways this was an unexpected nine days that shook the film world, especially the Italian part of it. Exactly where the fallout will land and with what effect, remains to be seen. And so, that really is IT for Roma 2OO6 and the sights are set high for the next edition.
Alex Deleon, cooling it in Budapest and looking forward to Arrivederci in Roma, sometime in 2OO7.


Comments (1)

Ooo, these are impressive

Ooo, these are impressive numbers. I wonder what's the price of a ticket. Rome was the glory town again, splendid nights, splendid people and art.Candles


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THE FESTIVALS BLOG by Alex Deleon. Watch for festival coverage from the circuit.

Ambiance and reviews from the hot spots. Welcoming your comments too.

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