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Venice "Mother of all Film Festivals" activity day by day

With a couple of hours still left to go until the official kick-off of this "Mother of all Film Festivals" activity is feverish along the short stretch of the Lido known as Viale Marconi, the actual location of this oldest of all world film festivals --Now that was rather a mouthful, calling for a bit of elucidation. The first Venice film festival took place way back in 1932 when the Fascist government under Benito Mussolini, taking a page from Lenin, realized that film was a powerful propaganda vehicle, one which by that time had already begun to take on the aura of an international status symbol. The very first film ever projected here was Rouben Mamoulian's original "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" starring Frederic March in the title role, and the ball has been rolling, pretty much ever since. The festival was, however, interrupted during the war years which accounts for the fact that this is "only" the sixty-third instalment. Other major film festivals did not get off the ground until after the war.

The first Cannes film festival was scheduled for September 1, 1939, as a response to the Italian film Mostra (Exhibition), but this a date unfortunately turned out to be the day that Hitler invaded Poland to start world War II. Consequently, the main French festival did not get started until 1946. The Berlin International Film Festival, which was to become one of the film industry’s most prestigious annual events was established, oddly enough, by the Americans occupying West Berlin after the Second World War in
1951, as an attempt to revive some of the culture and romance synonymous with that city during the Golden Twenties. Alfred Hitchock’s ‘Rebecca’ opened the very first Berlin festival, with the star Joan Fontaine present -- just to mention the other two most important European film festivals.

As for the location, it should be pointed out that “Venice” is more of a geographical concept than a precise location on a map. The city as such is actually situated on a fairly large collection of islands in a large lagoon at the top of the Adriatic sea separating the Italian peninsula from the former Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece. On the largest of these islands, one criss-crossed by countless canals and traversed by the world famous gondolas, is situated the collection of incredible architectural monuments – St. Marc’s Basilica, the Campanile, the Bridge of Sighs, etc. – which one generally associates with the name “Venice” – however, this is not where the film festival is to be found. To get to the film festival you have to take a boat –a Vaporetto, as the local “water taxis” are called – (although there’s nothing ‘vaporous’ about them – they’re fully motorized and a minor adventure in themselves) --some twenty minutes across the lagoon (from Piazza San Marco) to the long strip of sandy beaches known as the Lido. (The word “Lido” is actually a synonym for “beach” or “strand”) . From the Lido embarcadero a bus marked “Mostra di Cinema” takes you to the central festival locale, passing the Gran Hotel des Bains, where Thomas Mann wrote “Death in Venice back in 1915-16, and deposits you at Viale Marconi where the Sala Grande of the classic Palazzo del Cinema dominates the scene and is the heart of the festival proper. On three podia directly in front of the Sala Grande an imposing array of sixty-two golden winged lions – each one about half life size – have been assembled, to represent the 62 film festivals which have preceded this one. The golden winged lion is the traditional symbol of the city itself and the “Oscars” of this festival come in the form of winged lions.

The promenade before the Sala Grande leads up to the decaying but still magnificent structure of the beach front Hotel Excelsior which is the De Luxe venue where the super-top festival stars and VIPs are most likely to hole up during their visit. Hotels elsewhere on the Lido are booked solid for the duration of the Mostra, with even Poverty Row two-star dives able to charge upward of a hundred Euros a night. The red carpet galas are held every night in the Sala Grande under the gaze of the 62 lions while all other projection venues are within a stone’s throw making for easy navigation between screenings for the press corps –thank God!
The film getting by far the most advance notice is Brian De Palma’s “Black Dahlia” based on the James Ellroy novel, lensed by the famous Hungarian DOP Vilmos Zsigmond, and starring two time Oscar winner Hillary Swank as well as the fast rising but still very young first lady of femme fatality, Scarlett Johansson. Even lesser known actor Aaron Eckhart, who is in Rome to promote the Italian premiere of “Thank You For Smoking”, is a presence on the Venice movie pages because he has an important role in “Dahlia” and is on his way here to accompany the Dahlia contingent. For anyone still unfamiliar with the background of this film: It’s based on a true life (true death!) murder case which shocked the nation in 1947 – one of the most bizarre in the annals of the Los Angeles Police Department in which the young lady associated with the dark flower was found dead with her body cut neatly in two roughly equal portions (!) – but the killer was never found. This also has echoes of a famous film noir of the forties entitled “The Blue Dahlia” which starred cool tough guy Alan Ladd.
Another film based on an unsolved Tinseltown murder case is Allen Coulter’s “Hollywoodland”, the case in question being the unsolved 1959 death of Actor George Reeves who was a popular TV “Superman” of the time. This neo-noir has an enticing cast featuring Ben Affleck as the Superman stand-in, Adrian Brody (of “Pianist” best-actor Oscarhood), beauteous Diane Lane, and British star character-actor, Bob Hoskins. Noirish thrillers seem to be a leit motif in this year’s Venice pickings as will be seen in subsequent reports. An interesting sidelight here is the raft of photos of Nicole Kidman adorning the local papers – not as a Venice personality, but as the key figure to open the new Rome Film Festival set for mid-October. Seems that Venice, a bit shaky the past few years under new management, doesn’t like to see the Eternal City down south siphoning off talent they would prefer to reserve for themselves. One paper even speaks of an emerging “Cold War” between Venice and Rome. If the Rome festival ever becomes a real challenge to Venice that should be an interesting war to watch.

Alex Deleon, on the Lido
August 29, 2006

September 1, 2006
by Alex Deleon

The Italian press on the morning after Opening Night was was, as expected,
politely dismissive of De Palma's "Black Dahlia" and seemed to be much more
concerned with the late arrival on the red carpet of the film's heroine, new
American Diva -- (or should we say "Divette") -- Scarlett Johansson. For
whatever reason, La Scarlett was more than half an hour unfashionably late
for the opening ceremony which had to start without her. Nevertheless, all
the papers, including the two largest national dailies,"Corriere Della Sera"
and "La Repubblica", carried half-page color photos of la belle Americaine,
all smiles in a chastely girlish snow-white outfit. More glamour was
supplied onstage by Catherine Deneuve who, at 62 is still an eye-full, the
reigning queen of European cinema and, this year, the president of the
Venice competition jury.

Opening day was loaded with a full agenda of powerade films, among them
"Hollywoodland" starring Adrien Brody, the historical documentary "The U. S.
Vs. John Lennon" by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld -- featuring the
"original cast", John and Yoko, Richard Nixon, Walter Cronkite, Geraldo
Rivera, interalia, the non-competition French entry "Quelques Jours en
Septembre" featuring a gun-toting Juliette Binoche in a political film-noir,
and Oliver Stone's latest offering, "World Trade Center" focusing on certain
aspects of the events of 9/11, 2001.

This is a year of special centennial observations -- 100 years since the
births of a half dozen famous directors including Italians Rossellini,
Visconti, and mario Soldati, all born in 1906, but also of Austrian born
Hollywood director Otto Preminger. After walking out of the darkness of "A
few days in September" at the halfway mark, I scooted over to the elegant
Perla Hall in the press palace to catch a pristine restored print of
Preminger's 1965 suspense-thriller "Bunny Lake is Missing" which turned out
to be such a chiller as to make one forget the heat outside on the
In wide-screen black and white and set in the London of the swinging
sixties, this is a true classic of the genre. The film features an
uncharacteristic (but extremely suave) Lawrence Olivier as a detective
investigating the claimed disappearance of a four year old girl, BunnyLake,
the child of a young American couple newly arrived in England. As the
investigation progresses we begin to wonder whether the missing child in
question may not be non-existent --just a figment of the lovely mother's
fevered imagination (carol Lynnely). Without giving away the surprise
ending, suffice it to say that the fevered imagination belongs mostly to the
completely whacked-out husband, played by an deliciously psychotic Keir
Dullea a few years before he become somewhat of a national icon as one of
the pilots of Kubrick's space ship in "Space Odyssey, 2001". This is a
Preminger as suspenseful as any Hitchcock ever was -- catch it if you can!.

The high point of the day, however, was the industry and profession
screening of "Infamous", another take on the strange life of writer Truman
Capote, directed by David McGrath. This film was shown in the "Horizons"
section of the festival, out of competition but consisting of very high
profile new films. This was shown in the big hall of the main film palace
and the screening was attended by the director, actress Sandra Bullock, who
has a major role in the film, and the diminutive actor Toby Jones, who bears
a striking physical resemblance to Capote and whose performance in the film
is even more bravura than the same creation turned in earlier this year by
Philip Seymour Hoffman, which earned him the 2006 Best actor Oscar. Written
and directed by Douglas McGrath, this film about Truman Capote is based on
the book „Capote” by George Plimpton, in which various friends, enemies,
acquaintances and detractors recall his turbulent c.areer. "Infamous" was
followed by a most unusual ten minute standing ovation which seemed like it
would never stop. But more on this tomorrow --gotta run to catch the last
Vaporetto back to Giudecca -- or end up sleeping on the beach!

Alex Deleon
on The Lido


by Alex Deleon, Venice

The 63rd edition of the Venice film festival has opened with a salvo of noir
or noirish films during which the 'dark horse' "Hollywoodland" has upstaged
the odds-on favorite "Black Dahlia" which arrived with far more ballyhoo.
While Dahlia, with its high-powered cast, name director Brian De Palma, and
big time writer James Ellroy all on hand, was rather tepidly received at
various screenings, "Hollywoodland" or 'the Death of Superman’ as the press
has dubbed the film, was roundly applauded and got mostly high grades from
reviewers. Director Allen Coulter has been around the industry since 1979
but has worked almost exclusively in television, with such highly popular
series as "The Sopranos” and "Sex and the City” to his credit. This is his
big screen feature debut.

Both films are set in the L.A. Confidential territory of fifties and sixties
Los Angeles, both deal with unsolved killings, and both have strong casts
but, while Dahlia got lost in the complexities of its plot, Coulter’s film,
much more tightly constructed, thrives on its own complexity despite being
loaded with flashbacks and offering multiple theories as to the C.O.D.
(cause of death) of the central protagonist (Ben Affleck, as TV Superman
George Reeves --was his death accidental, a suicide, or a homicide??? – and
if the latter a number of people had plausible motives. De Palma spells it
all out at the end whereas Coulter leaves you guessing, yet his film is much
more coherent. The gold-plated cast features sexy Diane Lane as the
stray-cat wife of stray-dog studio head Bob Hoskins, and Adrien Brody as an
investigating detective seeking his own version of instant celebrity by
trying to solve pumped up mystery surrounding the death of a minor TV

The film, says director Coulter, is not really a 'noir’ in the ordinary
sense of the word, but rather a reflection on the desperate quest for
celebrity that takes over the lives of so many people when they come to
Hollywood in search of same. We all have some of that need to be widely
recognized, he adds – a thesis open to question but interesting
nevertheless. Affleck said he had to put on thirty pounds to look right for
the role of Reeves, but most of the attention was on Oscar winner Brody, who
was extremely intense and voluble before the press conference gathering,
apparently determined to press home the point that he has many more cards up
his sleeve than that of the forlorn, figure roaming the ruins of the Warsaw
Ghetto which got him his Academy statuette back in March. Not to worry, Mr.
Brody – this performance cerainly demonstrates your versatility and screen
Englishman Bob Hoskins said that he had no particular well-known or
notorious Hollywood studio boss in mind as a model for his role, but was
only interested in creating an interesting and believable character – which
he certainly did as he always does. Diane Lane, it must be mentioned, is
arguably the most attractive over forty actress in Hollywood – (41 to be
exact) -- the likes of Sharon Stone and Julia Roberts notwithstanding. To me
it's a bit of a mystery that this beautiful fascinating femme has never
quite made it to the very top of the leading-lady list although she is well
liked and has been seen in many interesting pictures – unfortunately more of
the cult-film variety than box-office smashes. (e.g., Coppola’s "Cotton
Club”, which was a high luster flop).

Speaking of good-looking talented actors who who were well-liked and
radiated integrity but never quite made it to tip-top stardom, today’s
Italian papers were full of lauditory obituaries for Canadian born Hollywood
leading man, Glenn Ford, who died at ninety, one of the very last of the
Golden Age stars. Two others still kicking are Kirk Douglas and Richard
Widmark. Kirk will be 9O in December and Widmark is 92. Ford whose most
famous role was in the classic 1946 film noir „Gilda” opposite Rita
Hayworth, and who was also memorable as the harried school teacher in
„Blackboard Jungle”, had the misfortune of working in the shadow of larger
than life screen icons such as Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant, but, above all,
his chief rival for top stardom and throbbing hearts was William Holden.

Which brings us to "Infamous". Who would have thought there would be room
for two biopics about the same character, Truman Capote, in the space of
half a year! -- especially when both films cover the same identical ground,
from the moment that the gay writer learns of the brutal, senseless murder
of an entire prairie family in Kansas, decides to write a book about it ("In
Cold Blood", which became a best seller), falls in love with one of the
killers he is interviewing, and is so distraught by the eventual execution
of the central character of his book that he is no longer able to write
anything of note and goes into a terminal alcoholic tailspin himself.

With "Infamous" (a most appropriate title) director Douglas McGrath not only
demonstrates that the subject is rich enough for a second treatment, but in
this writer’s view, improves considerably on the earlier film "Capote”
which, though it won the Oscar for Philip Seymour Hoffman in March, left me
with an empty feeling when I saw it in Berlin. Granted that Hoffman’s Oscar
was well earned, but the Dan Futterman screenplay was eerily off key, Bennet
Miller’s direction was a bit too clever, and worst of all, actress Catherine
Keener’s Harper Lee was like a loud screech from a different flick. It was
clear from the story that Truman was in love with killer Perry, but Miller
it seems, purposely skirted the issue as if it might offend somebody and get
the film an X-rating or something else bad for business. In fact, the whole
film reeked of commerciality and something that J-P Sartre would call "bad

In contrast, Mcgrath, who has made only three films before this, obviously
decided to shoot the works and go for broke. Truman -- (the most remarkable
actor, Toby Jones) not only tells Perry outright that he loves him, but
kisses him full flush on the mouth. And the kiss is returned by the killer!
No bullshit – no over-subtle implications ... We therefore FEEL Truman’s
deep pain at the end when Perry goes to the gallows, whereas we understood
Hoffman’s suffering, but didn’t really feel it. But it’s not just this –
it’s the whole approach to the material that is different in the current
film, and far more engaging. Toby not only looks like a physical clone of
Capote (and didn’t need the oodles of makeup that made Seymour over for the
part), but he comes right out and plays Capote as an outrageous flaming
queen all the way to the hilt, whereas Hoffman was (directed into being?)
far more restrained.

The gallery of New York high society personalities that comment on Truman’s
life in the McGrath version is a wonderful touch, adding a kitchy but
lovable pseudo-documentary effect. Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley shows
true heartfelt concern for Truman's troubles every time we see her – a
terrific cameo role – Peter Bogdanovich is a remarkable reincarnation of
suave Broadway personality Bennet Cerf, and Juliet Stevenson is a
to-die-for-funny version of outrageous Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland. All
these bits really juice up the sequences between-times whenever Toby Jones
is not chewing up the scenery and everything else in sight as the
unbelievably naughty Truman Capote. His name-dropping scene when invited to
the home of some well-heeled Kansas hayseeds – where he tells them how he
beat „Bogey” – (You don’t mean Humphrey BOW- GART -- do you!) -- in arm
wrestling, is one for the comedic Hall of Fame. You just know you’re in for
a very good time when the film opens will Gwyneth Paltrow in a glittering
white off-the-shoulder gown doing Peggy Lee singing "What is this thing
called Love?” – and breaks down right in the middle because she’s so touched
by the pathos of the song itself. Bravo cameo for Gwyneth!

And of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the next James Bond (Macho actor
Daniel Craig covered with tatoos) as Truman’s lover behind bars – another
very telling performance as well. Finally – Nelle Harper Lee, played by a
somewhat restrained Sandra Bullock – was, well, okay – even if La Bullock is
a bit too glamorous looking for the role (in bobby sox and flat shoes no
less!) – in any case half a light year better than Keener’s "Harper Lee" –
without the "Nelle" by which Truman always addresses her. If anything, it
was fun to see Bullock in many scenes just looking on – apparently tickled
to the bone by Toby’s Trumanesque antics. In fact what I like most about
McGrath’s film is that it is just as kitchy as Capote was himself – and
therefore rings true! I’m sure that if Capote came back from the crypt he
would love this film and would be sickened back to death by the Miller
variation. In any case, "Infamous” was a total triumph with the professional
Venice audience – an unbelievable ten minute standing ovation – especially
for Toby who finally had to take an individual bow, as if at an opera
curtain call -- but for Sandra and McGrath as well. I can’t see any reason
for "Infamous" not to be a smash hit with audiences everywhere, because it’s
just so damn good! And it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a second
successive Oscar for an actor doing Truman Capote at the next Academy

Oh, yes, there was a press conference and English actor Jones said he only
needed to listen to a lot of tapes of Capote to get the nuances of his odd
vocal delivery down pat. In real life Mr. Jones is hetero-sexu-al – and so,
of course is Mr. Craig. So, the obvious question was, how did it feel to do
the explicit kissing scene in the cell ... To which Jones responded, "Well,
it’s not every day you get to kiss James Bond”. The verdict is "Bravo!” –
all around. This is one not to miss when it comes your way.

Another item on this eventful second day of the fest: Oliver Stone’s „World
Trade Center” featuring Nicolas Cage as a heroic fireman in the Inferno of
September 11th – did not go down very well with the Italian crowd. A
Russian reporter I asked about it opined that it was "strictly for American
audience" – (if not from hunger). I didn't get to see it myself but the
papers reported that the film was greeted with a mixture of hesitant
clip-claps and scattered Boos. Hope Oliver doesn’t take it too hard
because, naturally, like everybody else – he’s here. Tomorrow, an overview
of all the films in competition and the other main sections of the fest.

Alex Deleon, Venice
September 2, 2OO6


By Alex Deleon
September 6, 2OO6

The breadth and scope of this festival, the name directors, top stars and
prestige films it attracts, all clearly mark it as a five star top drawer
event, one of the three or four most important way stations on the annual
international film festival circuit. But aside from big names and prestige
Hollywood products Venice is also known for its focus on lesser-known
auteur directors and for its awarding of prizes to films and performances of
high artistic merit. It was here in Venice, for example, that the
masterpieces of such major Japanese artists as Kurosawa ("Rashomon", Golden
Lion, 1951) and Mizoguchi ("Ugetsu", Silver Lion, 1953) were discovered and
introduced to the West in the wake of WW II.

The competition section this year comprises 21 titles with a typical mix of
new and old directors and a wide geographical span with four American and
three Italian films leading the pack, three from France, two each from
England, Japan and Cantonese-speaking China, and singleton entries from
Thailand, Russia, Austria, Holland and the Republic of Chad,in Africa.
Besides De Palma, other name directors in this lineup include Alain Resnais
(84), father figure of the French Nouvelle Vague, with "Private Fears in
Public Places", the 'Basic Instinct' man, Paul Verhoeven, who has returned
to Holland to shoot a purely Dutch film, ”Zwartbroek”, Englander Stephen
Frears with a film bearing very high expectations, ”The Queen” in which
Helen Mirren plays the Queen of England at the time of Princess Diana’s
tragic death in 1997, and Italian veteran Gianni Amelio with ”The Missing
Star”, an Italian film set mostly in modern China.

Frears’ "Queen" created quite a stir with its retelling of Elizabeth II’s
reaction – or rather quandary about how to react – to the sudden tragic
death of her despised daughter-in-law Princess Diana – the princess of the
collective world heart, on August 31 nine years ago. It was the newly
elected prime minister, Tony Blair, who persuaded her to come out of retreat
in the north of Scotland and lend her recognition to the immense outpouring
of public grief. Some say that had she not followed Tony’s advice the
entire monbarchy might have fallen. Helen Mirren’s magnificent portrayal of
the embattled British queen is so overwhelming that she is just about a
shoo-in for the beat actress prize at the end of the fest.

Diana was only shown in archival clips, not rquiring a thespian to stand in
for her, while Messrs. Blair and Prince Charles were convincingly portrayed
by actors Michael Sheen and Alex Jennings, respectively. Resnais „Private
Fears in Public Places” (simply „Coeurs” in French), an intimist story of
interwoven middle-aged couples, featuring a full-house of veteran actors,
Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi, Andre Dusollier and Claude Rich, was also very
well received with another of the kind of standing ovations that have become
nearly a daily occurence at this fest. Part of the outpouring of emotion
was surely deep felt respect for 84 year old director Resnais, still a very
handsome man and an imposing figure with his shock of white hair, trim black
suit, deep red shirt, yellow tie and aristocratic bearing. „Hearts”, a
highly polished piece of work, is definitely in the running for a Golden
Lion. The word is, however, that jury president Catherine Deneuve, has a
special weakness for oriental films and may try to swing the jury in the
direction of the south Chinese entry "I don’t want to sleep alone” by Tsai

Dutchman Paul Verhoeven, after a long stay in Hollywood where he directed
such blockbusters as "Robocop" and "Basic Instinct" has gone back home to
make his first Dutch language film in many years, "Zwartboek" or „The Black
Book”. The film is set in WW II German occupied Holland where a beautiful
Jewish singer eludes the Nazis and joins the resistance, but later has an
affair with a German officer who enlists her services in a roundabout way,
making her an outcast by both sides. Says leading Italian film critic Tulio
Kezich: „This is a coarse melodrama drawing on semi-pornographic material
from ’Basic Instinct’ and harping on the tired old saw that, in some cases,
the resistance was more pernicious than the Nazis themselves”. Having yet to
see the film myself I must reserve judgement, but Tulio has a rep for
calling the shots right.

A dark horse, but strong contender is local helmsman Gianni Amelio's "The
Missing Star" which, though an Italian production, is set mostly in
contemporary China with a cast of predominantly Chinese actors. A Chinese
delegation arrives in Italy to purchase a massive steelworks in the process
of dismantaling. Vincent, a skilled worker realizes that the blast furnace
the Chinese have taken back is defective so, prodded by his conscience, he
sets out for Shanghai where he hopes to correct the situation. The modern
China he encounters is light years away from what he imagined it to be.
Sergio Castellito is the Italian man of steel, while all other leads are
Chinese and the film proceeds in a mixture of both languages. Director
Amelio was also a leading contender for the Golden Lion last year with "The
Keys of the House" which got locked out, but turned up at many other

More to come as the festival enters the final days.

Alex, Venice, September 7

by Alex Deleon

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


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