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Venice day 8 Mozart in the trenches as streeps rules catwalk

With the festival entering its twilight phase there is no apparent letup in surprises and flashy new films. Three big ones yesterday were Kenneth Branagh's eagerly anticipated world premiere of a new screen version of Mozart's "Magic Flute", Manoel Oliveira's homage to Bunuel's "Belle de Jour", and another bravura turn by Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada".
La Streep, (a magnificent 57), the last big star of the week to hit town, held forth in a most interesting press conference in which she completely decried the type of celebrity life she portrays on the screen.

Another film, which seems to be a hot contender for the Golden Lion in spite of the fact that it is still an unfinished "work in progress" and was shown as such, is "Bobby" by Emilio Estevez, 44 year old son of actor Martin sheen. The subject matter, the story of the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, on June 6th, 1968, in Los Angeles -- (lots of people seem to get themselves killed in that city, especially in this festival!) -- and focuses (or tries to focus) on 22 people who were at the Ambassador Hotel where Bobby was killed by an insane Arab assassin (Sirhan-Sirhan), is unassailable, but it looks a bit as if novice director Estevez has bitten off a bit more than he can chew. Nevertheless, a dynamite cast – Harry Belafonte(!), Laurence Fishburne, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy, among others -- compels attention, and Sharon Stone outdoes her usual self in the role of "Miriam". I remember that day all too well having been in L.A. at the time, so I am perhaps too close to the material to render an objective judgement. Many people wept, many applauded. All I can say is "wait and see".

In this, the 25Oth Anniversary of the birth of Mozart Europe is awash with Mozart Festivals and Mozart tributes, Mozart this, and Mozart that -- it is therefore appropriate that Venice gets the first shot at Branagh's "Zauberflotte" and, moreover, that it gets to be shown in the venerable La Fenice opera house over in the city, one of the oldest on the continent -- it opened in 1792 one year after Amadeus's death. This is, however, not a straightforward filming of the opera as sung on stage, nor is it the first film of the opera ever shot. Swedish cinema maestro Ingmar Bergman did shoot the opera, as sung by a Swedish cast in Stockholm in 1974, but it was more a "Succes d'estime" and less of a box-office attraction than any of his other films -- even today, considered as something of a curiosity. Branagh decided to make it into a modern movie -- with the original music in place, to be sure -- but set, of all times and places, amidst the trench warfare of World War One. This is not the place to go into details as there will surely be plenty of opportunities later. Suffice it to say that the film, in spite of the offbeat treatment, was roundly applauded both at a morning screening on the Lido and at the invitation-only, black tie presentation at La Fenice. Before the press Mr. Branagh stated that he is basically a newcomer to the operatic form, had to do a lot of research and is hoping to reach young people with his film. For the record, for those familiar with the opera, the principal singing roles of this surrealistic fairy tale with Masonic overtones, Sarastro, Papageno and the Queen of the Night, are all taken by rising young stars. Said Branagh, an old youngster at forty six: "What I'm really shooting for is War and Peace".

In her turn in the limelight Meryl Streep plays a super-tyrranical haute couture fashion magnate and model runner who doesn't care whom she tramples on the road to success and celebrity. "In real life, says Streep, this insane concern for fashion and the latest clothes is just not my style. I prefer to lounge around the house in jeans!" She went on to say that these days, actresses over fifty, like herself, are only offered roles of female "heavies" -- bad women ---Well, well... This bad woman is looking better every day!

Manoel Olivera of Portugal is at ninety-eight -- yes --98 -- by far the oldest working film director in the world -- so old he makes Alain Resnais look like a young punk! His films tend to be little seen outside of film festivals but are always well received in the festival context. This tribute to Bunuel, and indirectly, to Catherine Deneuve -- current president of the festival jury -- as she was the star of the original film, is a minor gem. In the film Bulle Ogier plays Deneuve three decades later when she is spotted on the street by Michel Piccoli who soon develops an obsession for her -- or is this the original star of the film -- or just a look-alike? In any case a delightful film with star turns that may be in contention for acting tributes. Don't forget that the original "Belle de Jour" took the Golden Lion here in Venice in 1967.

Tomorrow the tale of Venice '63 will be told. It has been a week of unusually rich pickings filmwise, interesting sidebars, glamourous personalities galore, sunny weather and now, a furious buzz all over the
Lido as to who will win what.

Alex, Venice
September 8, 2OO6


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