Venice International Film Festival has a great line-up of international cinema in its 7oth version. Here is the official selection in the main competition of the festival:
ES-STOUH by MERZAK ALLOUACHE
Bab el-Oued, a working-class neighborhood of Algiers. On one side the bay, on the other the city. While time is marked by the muezzin’s call to prayer, five stories intersect, even if only for a moment, on the same number of terraces over the course of a whole day. A man is tortured because he doesn’t want to sign a mysterious document, under the cynical gaze of someone who is in reality very close to him. Only the little girl of an intransigent family tries to have a “normal” relationship with her uncle, shut up in a cage on the roof for reasons kept secret. The owner of the building disappears after having attempted once again to expel an old woman who is living illegally on the terrace—a decidedly peculiar former police officer investigates. A group of young men uses the roof for rehearsals prior to a musical performance, until the tragedy of a young woman is acted out on the adjacent terrace. At the least opportune moment, a small television crew finds itself in the wrong place.
Screening: 6 September 19:30 – Sala Grande6 September 20:00 – PalaBiennaleVENEZIA 70Es-Stouh by Merzak Allouache – Algeria, France, 94′
Language: Arabic – s/t English, Italian
Cast: Adila Bendimerad, Nassima Belmihoub, Ahcene Benzerari, Aïssa Chouat, Mourad Khen, Myriam Ait El Hadj
As the Arab world is rocked by a series of crises without precedent, Algeria seems to be, paradoxically, serene, turned onto itself, almost indifferent. It cherishes its new peace after a decade of bloody terrorism.
However the reality is quite different.
After Normal! and El taaib, Es-Stouh (Les terrasses) is a fiction in which I continue my exploration of this complex and troubled Algerian society through a series of characters.
The chaos we see in the streets of Algiers has reached its rooftops, previously places of tranquillity where neighbours met and gazed at the bay, the hills, the sea and which have become a living space, of violence, of death.
L’INTREPIDO by GIANNI AMELIO
Let’s imagine there’s a new occupation and it’s called “replacement.” Let’s imagine that an unemployed man practices it every day, this occupation. And thus that he works really hard and that he’s a happy man in his own way. He does nothing but take the place, sometimes just for a few hours, of someone who has absented himself, for reasons that can be more or less serious, from his official job. He is content with little, our hero, but money isn’t everything in life: there’s the need to stay in shape, not to let yourself go in a moment, as they say, of deep crisis. Let’s imagine then that there’s a young man of twenty, his son, who plays the sax divinely and so is lucky because he’s an artist. And let’s imagine Lucia, uneasy and circumspect, who is hiding a secret behind her desire to get on in life. Will they manage to reach the next episode safe and sound?
Screenings: 4 September 19:30 – Sala Grande4 September 20:30 – PalaBiennale
L’intrepido by Gianni Amelio – Italy, 104′
Language: Italian – s/t English
Cast: Antonio Albanese, Livia Rossi, Gabriele Rendina, Alfonso Santagata, Sandra Ceccarelli
The producer says that this film is like a cloud: it changes shape while you’re watching it. He may be right. At the beginning of shooting I was calling it a comedy, but many will be ready to argue with that, even if it does make you laugh a lot. Because there are also people who are touched and shed a few tears. I wrote it straight off, basing it around the body and soul of an actor who I greatly esteem and who I’d wanted to work with for a long time: a story “made to measure” but not too much so, that would make me try to live up to his talent, discovering some new sides of it, betting on surprises. And alongside him I wanted two still unknown young actors, a man and a woman who are just twenty, who would share a bit of their innocence with the other members of the cast. L’intrepido is set in the present day, in Italy. But not in order to breathe “the air of the time,” rather to make people hold their breath. Whence its anomaly with respect to the films I’ve made up to now and its fidelity to certain things that I’ve always had at heart. This is the sense in which you can interpret the title, which refers to the comic books that I devoured as a child. In that comic [L’intrepido, a weekly magazine that was published in Italy: translator’s note] there were illustrations of figures, but I believed they were real; it told fanciful stories but I thought that that was life. And above all I waited from week to week for the next installment of the adventure, for the necessity of a happy ending. Just like now.
MISS VIOLENCE by ALEXANDROS AVRANAS
On the day of her birthday, eleven-yearold Angeliki jumps off the balcony and falls to her death with a smile on her face. While the police and social services try to discover the reason for this apparent suicide, Angeliki’s family keep insisting that it was an accident. What is the secret that young Angeliki took with her? Why does her family persist in trying to “forget” her and to move on with its life?
Screenings: 1 September 22:15 – Sala Grande1 September 21:45 – PalaBiennale
Miss Violence by Alexandros Avranas – Greece, 99′
Language: Greek – s/t English, Italian
Themis Panou, Eleni Roussinou
Somewhere near the city center. Colored apartment blocks create a grey world. The quietness of an unbearable daily routine is broken by the suicide of a young girl. Like a symbol of many children who are forced to submit to the rules of a harsh, hopeless society, she proceeds to lay bare and reveal every kind of possible exploitation and manipulation carried out in a system which some people still call a family. The father commands and defines the way the family functions through ways which are not much different to those used to manipulate society. I always wonder who has the power: the one who strikes or the one who feels the pain? The harshest violence is that of silence. Of the unspoken
TRACKS by JOHN CURRAN
Tracks is based on the inspirational and iconic true story of Robyn Davidson. Robyn’s phenomenal solo trek from Alice Springs to Uluru and on to the Indian Ocean saw her traverse 2700 km of spectacular yet unforgiving Australian desert accompanied only by her loyal dog and four unpredictable camels. Charismatic young New Yorker and National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan travelled from the other end of the earth to capture, this epic and remarkable journey into one of the world’s last great wildernesses. Robyn reluctantly agreed to a visiting photographer in return for much needed trip funding and could only see Rick’s visits as intruding on her solitude and compromising everything the journey meant to her. However, this uneasy relationship between two very different people would slowly develop into an unlikely and enduring friendship. Set against one of the wildest and most breathtaking backdrops on the planet, this unprecedented journey pushed Robyn to her physical and emotional limits and taught her that sometimes we have to detach from the world to feel connected to it. In witnessing this extraordinary journey we realize that the impossible is within reach of us all.
Screenings: 29 August 19:45 – Sala Grande29 August 20:00 – PalaBiennale
Language: English – s/t Italian
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver
VIA CASTELLANA BANDIERA by EMMA DANTE
Shut inside their cars, two women face off in a silent duel that is fought out in the intimate violence of their stares. A wholly female duel punctuated by the refusal to drink, eat and sleep; more obstinate than the sun of Palermo and more stubborn than the ferocity of the men who surround them. For, as in every duel, it is a question of life or death… It’s a Sunday afternoon. The sirocco is blowing pitilessly in Palermo when Rosa and Clara lose their way in the streets of the city and end up in a sort of alley: Via Castellana Bandiera. At the same moment, another car driven by Samira, crammed with members of the Calafiore family, arrives from the opposite direction and enters the same street. Neither Rosa at the wheel of her Multipla, nor Samira, the old and stubborn woman driving a Punto, is willing to give way to the other, while the Calafiore family goes back into the unauthorized apartment house in which they live and, with the complicity of the local inhabitants, start taking bets on which of the two women will stick to her ground the longest. Evening falls, and then night creeps into the street and the houses of the neighborhood, but the two women, resisting hunger, sleep and thirst, seem to persevere in a mulishness that no longer has anything rational about it, and continue to refuse to give way…
Screenings: 29 August 22:15 – Sala Grande29 August 22:00 – PalaBiennale
Italy, Switzerland, France, 90′
Language: Italian, Sicilian dialect – s/t English, Italian
Cast: Elena Cotta, Emma Dante, Alba Rohrwacher, Renato Malfatti, Dario Casarolo, Carmine Maringola
Via Castellana Bandiera is a street on which two women defy one another. Rosa’s block is mental and her obstruction of the road a matter of principle. Anyone could pass, cross the barrier and be free but no one does. Ties become indissoluble, pacts unbreakable. On the one hand there’s the entrance into the lobster pot in which live a party, a society and a family, on the other Rosa, with her love in the balance and a precipice at the end of the street. The pivot is an elderly woman. Samira. Mute. Above everything. Like a monolith. Like a breakwater that resists the currents. Like a hieroglyph scratched into the rock. Her lair is the car in which she has taken refuge. Forever. Life has no plot and Via Castellana Bandiera is a piece of life.
TOM À LA FERME By XAVIER DOLAN
Tom, a young advertising copywriter, travels to the country for a funeral. There, he’s shocked to find out no one knows who he is, nor who he was to the deceased, whose brother soon sets the rules of a twisted game. In order to protect the family’s name and grieving mother, Tom now has to play the peacekeeper in a household whose obscure past bodes even greater darkness for his “trip” to the farm. Long ways, long lies… Set in Québec’s rural panorama, Tom à la ferme is a psychological thriller that centres on the ever-growing gap between city and country, and the nature of men who live there. Stockholm syndrome, deception, grief and secretive savageries pervade this brief and brutal pilgrimage through the warped and ugly truth.
Screenings: 2 September 17:00 – Sala Grande2 September 22:15 – PalaBiennale
Canada, France, 95′
Language: French – s/t English, Italian
Cast: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, Evelyne Brochu
With my previous films, I wanted to show how the notion of couple changed over the teenage years and through adult life, and how it deteriorated over time. Put together, the three movies managed to form a trilogy on unrequited love. But when I acquired the rights to Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, my goal was clear— trying something new. Another genre, another style of writing. I kept that in mind every second we filmed, or edited, or mixed Tom à la ferme. Inevitably, it turned out to be an amazing opportunity to understand the importance of variety in a filmmaker’s path. I felt the sheer joy of exploring genres and abiding by their specific grammar and principles. Going into the wild like this, relearning basics, saying no to tics… was the most satisfying journey through this form of art. Thinking more, doing less, working harder. Carrying on.
CHILD OF GOD By JAMES FRANCO
Set in mountainous Sevier County, Tennessee, Child of God tells the story of Lester Ballard, a dispossessed, violent man who is described as “a child of God much like yourself perhaps.” Ballard’s life is a disastrous attempt to exist outside the social order. Successively deprived of parents and homes and with few other ties, Ballard descends literally and figuratively to the level of a cave dweller as he falls deeper into crime and degradation
Screening: 31 August 21:45 – Sala Grande
Language: English – s/t Italian
Cast: Scott Haze, Tim Blake, Nelson Jim Parrack
Child of God is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel. Some of the inspiration for the protagonist, or anti-protagonist, Lester Ballard came from the real life killer in the 1950s, Ed Gein, who also inspired Robert Bloch’s book Psycho. It is fascinating to see how three very different kinds of products could result from the same source. We saw this project as an opportunity to examine extreme isolation. The grisly subject matter would be dealt with in a responsible way, but its main function would be to show, in an admittedly intense way, what it’s like to want desperately to connect with other humans and not being able to. This was our way in, to show a man willing to commune with the dead because they were the only ones who wouldn’t reject him. He is pushed into this dreadful situation because he has been pushed out of all civilized society. What do people do when they can’t keep up with all the new systems of civilization and socialization? Lester moves from farm, to cabin, to cave, to actually roaming beneath the earth; an outcast, but an outcast we can all relate to. The key to our film was to present something that was both intense and watchable. Lester is a killer and a disturbed individual, and in no way is his behavior condonable, but in the realms of art, a character like him can be used to study what is inside all of us. And heck, he’s even a little funny. He’s a bumbling killer. Half Deliverance, half Charlie Chaplin.
PHILOMENA By STEPHEN FREARS
Falling pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena was sent to the convent of Roscrea to be looked after as a “fallen woman.” When her baby was only a toddler, he was taken away by the nuns for adoption in America. Philomena spent the next fifty years searching for him but with no success. Then she met Martin Sixsmith, a world-weary political journalist who happened to be intrigued by her story. Together they set off to America on a journey that would not only reveal the extraordinary story of Philomena’s son, but also create an unexpectedly close bond between Philomena and Martin. The film is a compelling narrative of human love and loss that ultimately celebrates life.
Screenings: 31 August 19:15 – Sala Grande31 August 20:15 – PalaBiennale
Language: English – s/t Italian
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
I was intrigued by the subject matter and the prospect of working with Judi Dench again was very exciting. With my appetite whetted, I worked with Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope on the screenplay achieving a fine balance, a delicate mixture of a tragic story with a good deal of humour, there is a sadness and happiness at the same time.
It is an odd couple film, an extraordinary road trip taken by a wily journalist and an elderly lady. Judi is absolutely wonderful to work with and I believe gives the performance of her life, contrasting with Steve Coogan who plays with an extraordinary pitch perfect depth. He is interesting and clever with tremendous moral intelligence.
Meeting the real Philomena Lee I was surprised that she wanted to visit the set, which she did on the day of the profoundly upsetting laundry scene. She is a magnificent woman with no self-pity, a very straightforward person who took the scene in her stride. Despite all the injustices she has suffered she still retains her religious faith.
LA JALOUSIE by PHILIPPE GARREL
A 30-year-old man lives with a woman in a small, furnished, rented apartment. It’s a love story. The man has a daughter by a woman he walked out on. He sees the child of course, but the woman lives alone with her and has to work to feed her because the man gives her nothing. The man is very poor and he is an actor. A theater actor. And now he is madly in love with this other woman, who is also an actress. But she is out of work. She was once a rising star, but offers of parts dried up. He does everything he can to get her a role, using all his contacts in the business. To no avail. And then the woman cheats on him in turn. She comes to see him in the small apartment. And then she says she can’t bear it there and leaves. He shoots himself in the chest but the revolver slips and, instead of lodging fatally in his heart, the bullet perforates his left lung. In the hospital, his sister comes to see him and stays at his bedside. She’s all he has left. His sister and the theater.
Screenings: 5 September 19:30 – Sala Grande5 September 20:00 – PalaBiennale
Language: French – s/t English, Italian
Cast: Louis Garrel, Anna Mouglalis
The idea that underpins this film is that my son Louis plays his grandfather at 30—the same age as Louis today—even though it is set in the present day. It tells of my father’s love affair with a woman—and by admiring her I unwittingly made my exemplary mother jealous— when I was a child being raised by my mother (in the film, I am a little girl). Those are the historical origins of this contemporary film—my son playing my father when he was 30.
THE ZERO THEOREM by TERRY GILLIAM
An eccentric and reclusive computer genius plagued with existential angst works on a mysterious project aimed at discovering the purpose of existence—or the lack thereof—once and for all. However, it is only once he experiences the power of love and desire that he is able to understand his very reason for being.
Screenings: 2 September 19:30 – Sala Grande2 September 20:15 – PalaBiennale
UK, USA, 107′
Language: English – s/t Italian
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton
When I made Brazil in 1984, I was trying to paint a picture of the world I thought we were living in then. The Zero Theorem is a glimpse of the world I think we are living in now. Pat Rushin’s script intrigued me with the many existential ideas he had incorporated into his funny, philosophic, and touching tale. For example: What gives meaning to our lives, brings us happiness? Can we ever find solitude in an increasingly connected, constricted world? Is that world under control or simply chaotic?
We’ve tried to make a film that is honest, funny, beautiful, and surprising; a simple film about a complex modern man waiting for a call to give meaning to his life; about inescapable relationships and the longing for love, full of quirky characters and sparkling performances; raising questions without offering obvious answers. Hopefully, it’s unlike any film you have seen recently; no zombies, no caped crusaders or alien spacecraft. Actually, I might have lied about that last item. Having not worked with a budget this small for several decades, I was forced to work fast and instinctively, pressured only by time and money. We relied on the freedom to spin on a dime, to make outrageous creative leaps. The results surprised even me. I’m proud to have been part of The Zero Theorem.