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Venice Wraps with una bella spaghettata in lieu of Lynch

The "Spettacoli" (entertainment) sections of the Italian dailies on Mondy (September 11...) all carried detailed commentaries -- mostly recriminations -- regarding the distribution of awards and other aspects of the festival which wrapped on Saturday. To start with, hardly anyone stuck around for the "Gala Closing Film", Pavel Lounguine’s „The Island -- but cut out quickly and headed for the closing bash at the Excelsior down the road. Pavel may be a fairly big name in Russia but he’s not exactly a draw elsewhere, so the question was put to Chairman Mueller why he didn’t sked a more attractive pic to backend the festival . Mueller’s dry reply was, „It couldn’t be helped. This is the way the ball bounces on the closing day...” (yeh-yeh). For the record Lounguine’s film is a semi-occult tale connecting World War II events in the northern White Sea with a monastery monk known for his powers of healing and prophecy on an island in the same sea 34 years later. Not being seen in Venice is not neccesarily the end of a film’s career. Better luck next festival, Pavel.

The debate over the award of the Golden Lion to the Chinese dark horse entry „Still Life”(Sanxia Haoren) continues unabated. It turns out that the so-called „one point decision” by which „Still Life” was reputed to have nosed out the favored Italian film „Nuovomondo", did not involve "Still Life" at all, but was rather a choice between "Nuovomondo" and the Alain Resnais film, "Private Fears in Public Places" for the Silver Lion, Best Director prize. When that one was decided in favor of the emminent French cinéaste, the awards commitee in collusion with Chairman Mueller, hastily dreamed up a second Silver Lion on the spot, dubbing it "The Lion of Revelation" and handed it to "New World" director Emmanuele Crialese, thus ensuring that Italy would not go home from its own festival with totally empty hands. Smiling somewhat sheepishly as he displayed his little winged lord of the jungle to a battery of press photogs, he remarked that it’s „kind of nice to be called a Revelation”. Well, yes -- in a strongly Catholic country like Italy that word does have a nice devotional ring to it.

The really big problem with Golden Lion winner "Still Life" was that hardly anybody saw it. It was inserted into the competition lineup by Mr. Mueller at such a late date that it wasn't even listed in the official festival catalogue (an egregious rip-off, incidentally, at 29 Euros) -- talk about "dark" horses -- this was practically invisible! Jury president Catherine Deneuve defended the jury's choice, saying "we were all very touched by this film and impressed with its cinematic qualities". Furthermore, the Belle de Jury went on to say, "It's not my fault if few people saw it -- I'm not responsible for the scheduling of projections" -- Makes you kind of wonder who is... The selection was not as entirely "off the wall" as one might think at first glance. This was director Jia Zhang-ke's third visit to Venice. This was his third feature and every one has been screened here before. On a Chinese website seen in Venice the 36 year old director stated that he certainly did not expect to come home with a Venice Golden Lion, but he is certain that this will encourage other young Chinese directors like himself, and is moreover a tribute to the people in his film who were driven from their homes by a runaway construction project whose contractors had no concern whatsoever for the environmental impact their dam might produce. This very socially aware director says that a number of his films have been indirectly banned because of their critical social content, but, he insists "I will continue to make the same kinds of films". Oddly enough, I only encountered one person who actually bothered to see "Still Life", a chap known as "Checkpoint Charly", who is a Venice regular and an astute film spotter for an obscure festival in California. Said Mr. Charly, and I quote: „Thank GOD Nuovo Monde didn't win. It's a completely ordinary mainstream film, albeit with a half dozen or so wonderful moments -- but that's not enough in my book to make an award winner. However, I have to say that Still Life is an extremely successful film, has some terrific things in it – and, basically deserved the award”.

The „Lifetime Achievement Lion” accorded American director David Lynch also came in for some static and was far from universally acclaimed. This is after all, a director who makes films which, to say the last, are „not for every taste” –among them creepshows like „Eraserhead” and hideous vulgarities like „Blue Velvet” – but also thoughtful masterpieces like „Mulholland Drive”. In any case, two prominent Jury members declared publicly that they had made a point of missing Lynch’s latest film „Island Empire” -- in order to treat themselves to a „swell spaghetti dinner” (una bella spaghettata) instead! Probably a good choice, although the film is sprinkled with appealing stars such as Laura Dern and Jeremy Irons, but it does run three hours, which is a helluva lotta Lynch to absorb at a single sitting. On his big day Mr. Lynch regaled the press with a lengthy disquisition on the techniques and beneficial effects of transcendental meditation – a discipline he now practices regularly to clear his mind and stabilize his addled view of life.

The Ben Affleck ’best actor’ award was taken to task by one writer who called it „a prize for a second rank actor in a secondary role, who didn’t even have the good grace to accept his award in person”. In his heart of hearts Ben might agree with this guy, which would explain why he didn’t bother to make a second trip all the way from Hollywood. Even the Special Jury Prize for the film from the African Republic of Chad was called into question as „a bone thrown in that direction in the name of Political Correctness!” All this in stark contrast to last year’s unanimously acclaimed awards for „Brokeback Mountain” (Golden Lion), David Strathairn, best actor in „Goodnight and Good Luck”, George Clooney for the screenplay of the same film, and the like. But, such is the nature of Festival awards. Some years everyone agrees and pats one another on the back, other years there is grumbling and discontent. 2OO6 in Venice will go down as a Season of Shakespearean Discontent as far as the prizes – no reason, however, not to enjoy all the rest of the show and a beautiful week on the Lido.

All eyes are now turned south in the direction of Rome and the new festival primed for launch there next month. Will it turn out to be just a flash in the pan, or a serious contender for pre-emminence on the ever more crowded Italian Festival Calendar.

Aéex Deleon,
September 12

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