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Venice Uncut – Part Two
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Venice Uncut – Part Two

The 68th Venice Film Festival – scene 2

George Fleeton

Was the recent Venice Film Festival (August 31st to September 10th) a reliable barometer for determining current trends in world cinema?

Was the complex and multi-faceted seventh art celebrated in all its diversity and intensity on the Venice Lido?

Was there irrefutable evidence on Festival screens that the historically proven ingredients of great stories well told on film were to the fore: namely, demanding and intelligent core dramatic material; informed cultural representations; total engagement of the audience’s head and heart; positive and inspirational values infusing the melodrama; the emotional effects of, and responses to, tragedy and comedy as shared experience; and did this Festival write one more substantial chapter in film history beautifully, credibly and creditably?

The answers to these and other issues equally relevant to the stance taken by the 68th Venice Film Festival are neither straightforward nor trifling.

One way to approach this is by a consideration of the ten or twelve films that were seen in their entirety.

Festival opened with George Clooney’s The Ides of March, in which he acted and had a hand in the screenplay.

This was nothing special, quite self-indulgent in fact, but it would have made a very good two hour television drama, since truth to tell All the President’s Men had similar and less fictional ground well covered 35 years ago.

Clooney can direct a film: Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) proved that. The Ides of March seemed too much like a step back from that excellent film.

Madonna was also trying her hand at directing her first ‘please take me seriously’ film.

Her W.E. may have been laughed out of court but this was a thoughtful, perhaps too respectful account of what Wallis Simpson – la traviata, the woman who strayed – gave up for Edward VIII in 1936.

W.E., which covers some of the same ground as The King’s Speech, is much more honest and complex that than slightly earlier film.

And Madonna had the good sense, unlike Clooney, to stay out of the film and to concentrate on writing and directing her story.

At her press conference afterwards, she was a little tetchy, perhaps beginning to sense the less than favourable response it was going to receive, but her remarks were thoughtful and sensitive.

And it has to be said that too many of the three thousand accredited press who were present let the whole profession down a bucketful with their juvenile questions and their mob antics at the finish.

Later it was a relief to discover a restored print of Roberto Rossellin’s 1959 documentary India, matri bhumi in which his basic principle of good storytelling is fore grounded, i.e. to observe the world through film and so to illustrate and share with us the humanity that underpins our history, art and politics.

Rossellin’s son Renzo was present at the screening, and as a young man of 18 he had helped on this film.

Several of the screenings on the Lido and elsewhere were beset by technical problems, which is inexcusable.

For example, when The Ides of March was later screened for the public, across in Venice in the vast open air Arena di Campo San Polo, there was a delay of twenty-five minutes while someone fiddled with the projector, and not one word of apology.

It is best to say as little as possible about the Chinese film The Sorcerer and the White Snake directed by Tony Ching Siu-Tung, a true CGI mess (cgi = computer generated imagery).

As a purported expression of Chinese cultural and spiritual strengths, always welcome to see and to appreciate in the west, this misguided film missed every single target it set itself. And a very poorly attended press conference afterwards was somewhat embarrassing for all concerned.

These days it is not easy to compete with The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

Light years away from that, and a little more palatable, was Kate Winslet’s title role performance is Todd Haynes’ five-part mini-series Mildred Pierce.

But what is heaven’s name was this HBO series, devised for prime time television, doing (out of competition, of course) at the Venice Film Festival?

James M. Cain, whose infinitely better work includes The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, is nowhere nearly as well served in this over extended and pretentious adaptation of Mildred Pierce as he was by Michael Curtiz’ 1945 film with Joan Crawford.

As Cain wrote himself, great writing is all about maximum effectiveness for very little effort.

And if you think that’s easy, try it yourself.

Outside and beyond the Festival, strikes are a way of life in Italy, a country which has in recent weeks moved nearer to the eye of the EU economic hurricane, and a public sector services strike there, which seemed to have no effect on the Venice Film Festival, took place on September 6th although it did force the cancellation of Verdi’s La Traviata at La Fenice opera house that night.

Berlusconi’s much disputed austerity measures were being pushed through in Rome that week and this strike was one of many reactions to them.

The brawling among the coalition parties, on television, was both pathetic and risible (in Ireland it is no different) and the strike that day, which seemed to offer no solutions to anything, accentuated rather than mitigated the dire financial crisis Italy is facing.

A target was set and eventually agreed to reduce the nation’s deficit by about £50 billion over the next few years, figures which meant nothing to those Venetians of my acquaintance.

In the end, a much weakened and scandal ridden Berlusconi, whose government had already slashed subsidies to all the arts in Italy (beyond what is fair and probably beyond what is legal, according to one well-informed contact) managed like Houdini to survive another confidence vote in the lower house of parliament.

As his package is most unlikely to be thrown out by the Senate there will be inevitably many more strikes and, in spite of them rather than because of them, the word on the streets and canals of Venice was that Berlusconi’s days are irretrievably numbered.

*

More feedback from Venice shortly, here on www.downnews.co.uk

Closer to home, the first of six live ballets from the Bolshoi in Moscow kicks off on October 9th at 4pm in the QFT Belfast: La Esmeralda.

Following that, in the Omniplex Cinemas in Dundonald, the first of eleven live operas from the Metropolitan in New York gets under way on October 15th at 6pm: Anna Bolena.

Lyric Opera Productions’ performances of Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore run in the National Concert Hall in Dublin on October 15th, 17th and 19th at 730pm.

October 17th is also the twentieth anniversary of the death of Belfast born operatic tenor James Johnston.

Finally, for the moment, Opera Theatre Company’s revival of a recent opera The Diary of Anne Frank may be seen in the Waterfront Hall Studio on October 19th and 20th at 8pm, as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s.