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Strong Contenders for Golden Lion

On the eighth day of the Venice International Film Festival, several very strong contenders for the Golden Lion have screened and are the talk of the Lido. To date Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru nougoku shiro) by award winning Hayao Miyazaki has produced the most enthusiastic response from Italian journalists and public. The film was screened under the utmost care to prevent piracy as the film will not be released in Japan until November 20. It will open in France on December 15. According to Miyazaki «Can there be animation for old people? "Hauru nougoku shiro" is an attempt to give an answer to that challenge» To be sure, the crowd that hoped to get into the two heavily guarded screenings come from all ages - from teens to spectators in their mid 70's.

Miyazaki’s Spirited Away won the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival and an Oscar in 2003 for best animated film. Based on the children’s novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle is a love story about 18-year-old Sophie, and the magician Hauru. Unfortunately Sophie has come under the curse of a witch who has given her the body of a 90 year old woman. Sophie sets off for the castle of Hauru where she meets the fire demon Karushifa who wants out of his contract with his master. Should he succed he promises he will make her 18 again.

In a surprise screening on day 7, the 22nd contribution was added to the official selection --Binjip (3-Iron) by Kim Ki-duk from South Korea. The film is a reverential study of a young man, Tae-suk (Jae Lee) who breaks into houses, uses and washes the occupants' clothing, repairs their appliances, and lives while the owners are away. The title of the film in South Korean means “The Empty House”. While living in one of the apartments he discovers a young woman- Sun-hwa who is beaten by her husband. She later joins him in his lifestyle. The death of an old man in a breakin brings the couple to the attention of the police, Tae-suk is incarcerated and Sun-hwa is sent back to her husband. The film is virtually devoid of dialogue between the two young people therefore when it does occur it comes as a shock.

South Korean journalists asked the director twice about the controversy over actress Lee Seung-yun who plays Sun-hwa, a beautiful model involved in a physically abusive relationship with her wealthy husband – a man whom Tae-suk later attacks with golf balls. The 36 year old actress has reportedly taken nude pictures of “comfort women” and made them available for a fee on the Internet. “Comfort women” were the young females of various ethnic and national backgrounds and social circumstances who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during the Second World War “The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan” are infuriated that profit will be made on the tragedy. Kim Ki-duk did not feel the questions relevant to the press conference and said he chose Lee Seung-yun for her acting ability. Binjip is a visually powerful commentary on illusion --that what may seem like reality may be a dream. The film brought enthusiastic response from the critics and public. "3 Iron" was written in a month, prepared for production in a month, shot in 16 days and edited in 10 for one million dollars - an homage against dialogue bound narratives.

Immediately following the surpise screening was Michael Richard Kelley's out of competition director’s cut of Donnie Darko, a production that took seven years to realize --and which he claims he worked against the grain of the Hollywood system for its completion. The film is set during the Bush Sr/Dukakis campaign of 1988. One day a plane engine suddenly falls into Donnie Darko’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) bedroom, destroying his room. A series of events after the accident includes regular meetings with a psychiatrist- Dr Lilian Thurman (Katherine Ross -The Graduate and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) who treats Darko for a sleeping disorder - and a man with a horrific metallic bunny mask. Darko eventually learns about a book written by a retired and gifted high school teacher -- Roberta Sparrow : The Philosophy of Time Travel. The key to Darko’s path in time traveling eventually leads him to “The Cellar Door”, and in the end the same conclusion may be arrived that confronts the spectator of Kim Ki-duk’s film. Donnie Darko pokes fun at American pop culture, materialism and the hypocrisy of “traditional” family values in a skillful style. The film is produced by Drew Barrymore who plays a high school English teacher fired for teaching about Graham Greene. In one absurd scene the high school moralist confuses him with actor Lorne Greene from the TV serial Bonanza.

Probably one of the strongest contenders for an award in the Horizon section is Pirjo Honkasalo's The 3 Rooms of Melancholia (Finland Sweden Denmark)- a poetic document on the Chechen war, and the children who were orphaned. The producer battled for filming permits and shooting eventually ceased in the autumn of 2003 when people's lives were at risk for showing their faces on camera.
Moira Sullivan

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