Searches for Identity, Past and Present The 7th Festival del cinema europeo in Lecce By Gerhard Midding

in 7th Lecce Festival of European Cinema

by Gerhard Midding

The proliferation of film festivals all around the globe naturally raises suspicion about their origins and motivations. If a city runs short of native celebrities, a festival with illustrious guests seems the best shot at international recognition. The Festival del cinema europeo in Lecce , however, doesn’t owe its existence to an enterprising tourist association, but to the passion of its founder Alberto La Monica, a genuine cinephile. He managed both to assemble a remarkable competition – one rarely had to wonder: ‘What the hell is this film doing here?’ – and put it into a historical perspective by the homages paid to Andrej Tarkovsky (on occasion of the 20th anniversary of his death) and the actress Lucia Bosè.

A headstrong personality both on and off-screen, Bosè lent much lustre to the festivities: she opened the small photo exhibition all dressed in blue, literally from head to toe – apparently, she has been sporting her hair dyed in blue for a decade now. She acknowledged the reverence brought to her – especially the first publication about her in Italian, co-edited by La Monica and the astute critic Massimo Causo, who also is a member of the selection committee – while at the same time displaying a healthy dose of irony towards the vicissitudes of fame and public adoration. In the mid-fifties, at the height of her career, she bid farewell to movie stardom and Italy to marry the famous bullfighter Dominguin and live in Spain (popular singer Miguel Bosè is their son). She did return sporadically – and magnificently, as the screening of the Taviani Bros’ Sotto il segno dello scorpione demonstrated.

Although Bosè won the title of Miss Italia in 1947 – and beat fierce competition, with future sex goddesses Gianna Maria Canale und Gina Lollobrigida among the contenders – hers is an unconventional beauty. On screen, she looked taller than many of her male co-stars, and the curve of her nostrils projects even more passion and resoluteness than Sophia Loren‘s. Her screen persona, forged at the intersection of neorealism, traditional melodrama and modernism, is distinct from that of her contemporaries Anna Magnani and Silvana Mangano; she projects both aloofness, passion and self-determination. The star of Antonioni’s first features, at first glance she seems to conform to his doctrine of the intuitive, non-reflective actor. As the unfaithful wife of a wealthy Milan industrialist in Chronicle of a Love (Cronaca di un amore, 1950), she carries herself with the assuredness of a fashion model, which often makes for stilted acting. But gradually, she probes deeper into her noirish character and discovers her vulnerability.

In a surprisingly short time span, Bosè gained authority and a more natural elegance. She emerges as a self-possessed woman in Luciano Emmers delightful Three Girls from Rome (Le ragazze di Piazza di Spagna, 1952) where she plays a seamstress turned fashion model who doesn’t lose her sense of reality in the process. The major discovery of the series was Francesco Masellis astonishing feature debut Abandoned (Gli sbandati, 1955), vividly introduced by the director himself. Set in 1943, Maselli relates the confusion of the provincial jeunesse dorée confronted with decision as to whether they should support the partisan movement or conform to their opportunistic upbringing. Bosè (as a refugee) stands at the moral centre of the conflict. Masellis film deserves to be rediscovered, not only as the precursor it in many ways is: as the portrait of a generation, it has the feel of Valerio Zurlinis early films; Gianni di Venanzo’s brilliant, stark B/W photography announces his later work with Antonioni; furthermore, the character’s search for a proper moral identity in a changing world connects it to many of the contemporary films shown this year.

The second-most-photographed guest after Lucia Bosè was jury president Moritz de Hadeln. One would be at fault to ridicule this as a case of provincial awe in dire search of worthy objects. He was greeted as a proponent of the diversity of European cinematography; in Italy he is still highly regarded for his short-termed tenure as director of the Venice film festival. In its seventh year, the Lecce festival put a focus on the Mediterranean cinema; a special program was devoted to recent Albanian productions. The feeling of uprooting provided a common thematic horizon for films from hugely different cultures. The protagonists of the Macedonian competition entry Kontakt exemplify the search for identity. A tale of new beginnings: a man recently released from prison is asked to renovate the house of a fugitive arms dealer whose daughter spent her last years in an psychiatric asylum. Sergej Stanojkovski fearlessly changes pace and tone during his timid love story, switches from the poetic to the grotesque and eventually, to sentimentality.

Both the Dutch film Live! (Leef) by Willem van de Sande Bakhuyzen and Igor Sterk’s Tuning from Slovenia contemplated the future of disintegrating marriages. Whilst Live! rather naively winds its way out of a cascade of catastrophies, Tuning shoulders its own heavy load of symbolism rather lightly. Fabien Godets Burnt out (Sauf le respect que je vous dois) tackles an important subject: the dehumanisation of working conditions due to the economic pressures of globalisation and profit maximising. But Godet’s attitude is increasingly compromised by a muddled screenplay that shows little regard for exposition and character motivation. This reproach can be directed towards several competition entries. Teenage Wasteland (Keller), yet another essay in Austrian self-disgust, not only makes you wonder how such a misogynistic film can be directed by a woman (Eva Urthaler), but also why so many filmmakers have trouble finding the right resolution for their conflicts. Whatever, Hostage (Omiros) wants to say about the plight of Albanian immigrants in Greece gets lost in the confused flashback structure of the script; at times Constantine Giannaris‘ direction uneasily leans towards sensationalism.

How to assert yourself away from home with your own set of morals was a thematic strand pervading most of the competition. The French-German co-production Fratricide confronts this in the most courageous and ambivalent manner. At the closing ceremony, where awards were generously distributed (seven out of ten competition entries received one), the controversial film had to content itself with the prize for Best Screenplay. Telling the story of a bloody feud between Kurdish and Turkish migrants in Germany , Yilmaz Arslan explores the mechanism by which ethnic affiliation can shape and destroy identity. His mise en scène reveals a real sense of character and place. Arslan manages to keep many balls in the air: the touching tale of a friendship that is forged between two young kurdish boys, the conflict between family bonds and personal ethics, the exposé of a kurdish association that exploits the acts of revenge for propaganda purposes. His shocking film roots the escalating urban violence in archaic rituals (the killings remind you of the slaughtering of animals) without denouncing any of the two conflicting cultures.